County and City of Americus governments hold intergovernmental meeting to discuss various issues

Published 8:10 pm Thursday, April 14, 2022

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AMERICUS – On Wednesday, April 13, the Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC), the Americus City Council and other officials from both governments, such as Americus Mayor Lee Kinnamon, got together at the Sumter County Agricultural Center to hold an intergovernmental meeting to discuss issues such as the county’s landfill, the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), what roads belong to the county or the city and what to do about the old Humane Society Building.

The first of these items to be discussed was the landfill and more specifically, how to cap it properly to satisfy the standards of the state’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

Sumter County Department of Public Works Director Jim Littlefield stated that back in 1996, the landfill was closed according to federal and state rules by placing a two-foot soil cap over it and it was compacted and done in layers. Littlefield stated that in either 1997 or 1998, the county received a certificate of approval stating that the landfill was closed properly. However, he went on to say that over the years, the barrier that caps the landfill has been settling unevenly. “As you can imagine, everything basically goes into a landfill, so it decays at different rates,” Littlefield said. He went on to say that if one were to go to the landfill, one could see where the decaying has taken place over the years. He also stated that the decaying process has led to a black liquid seeping out that is called leachate and that this liquid causes further decaying. According to Littlefield, this decaying process has been taking place over the last several years at the landfill and cracks are forming in the cap, allowing rainwater to seep into the soil. In other words, the integrity of the cap has diminished and, according to Littlefield, the county has been putting “band aids” over it when what really needs to be done is for the cap to be replaced.

Littlefield went on to say that the EPD saw that the situation was very serious and mandated that another cap be placed over the landfill. “If we came back in with another two-foot soil cap, we’d be right back where we are, at the most, in five years because of the subsidence in the cracking and everything,” Littlefield said.

Littlefield went on to say that he looked into some engineering firms to help with the project of replacing the old cap and chose Oasis Consultant out of Roswell, GA to do the job. “We selected Oasis because they had an innovative approach to resolving this problem at the landfill,” He said. According to Littlefield, the approach is to cap the landfill with a geotextile material and he added that this approach has been done in Baldwin County, GA. He went on to say that the landfill itself is about 14 acres at the top and another 10 acres of it is sloped going down to the bottom. Because of this, Littlefield said that there are two options. The first option would be to cap all 24 acres of the landfill, a process called “Closure Turf”. Littlefield had a sample of this geotextile material with him and he had it passed around the room for everyone to see. According to Littlefield, this first option would keep the cap in working order for another 30 to 50 years and capping the landfill with this material would greatly reduce hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a year from seeping in. “It’s like cutting the faucet off on a sink,” Littlefield said.

The second option, according to Littlefield, is to cap just the 14 acres at the top of the landfill, but it would only grasp the slopes, which would not stop the penetration of rainwater into the landfill. This option would make the life span of the cap about 15-20 years before it would need to be replaced again. “The reason is you still have penetration of rainwater coming through the slopes. That’s why we are favoring Option A,” Littlefield said. He added that Option A is the way to go because it’s better in the long run with cost and efficiency. “It would keep our future representatives from meeting back in a room for a similar meeting again. Option A would go a long ways to eliminating that,” Littlefield said.

City of Americus Manager Deidra Powell told Littlefield that at a previous meeting, he told the Americus City Council that regardless of which option is chosen, there is no guarantee that this particular option would completely solve the problem. “Is that still true,” Powell asked Littlefield.

When asked the same question later by the Americus Times-Recorder, Littlefield stated that he could not guarantee with 100 percent certainty that the cap would last for 30 to 50 years, but he did add that engineering studies and actual applications have shown this to be true. As far as Powell was concerned, she wanted to make sure that nothing had changed since the last meeting. “I just want to make sure that we are all on the same page so that when we leave this meeting, what I have repeated is accurate and something has not changed,” Powell told Littlefield.

Mayor Kinnamon also asked Littlefield if there is any real time data showing that this specific geotextile material has lasted 30 to 50 years. Littlefield replied that there is no real time data to show that because no project has lasted that long yet.

Littlefield went on to say that if the county went with the second option, the likelihood of everyone being back in 15-20 years to address the seepage of rainwater into the slopes of the landfill is higher. He further stated to Powell that under the first option, it would be at least 30-50 years before they would have to address the problem again.

Powell stated that she was fine with whatever decision the county decides to make on the issue, but wanted clarification on the matter, being that she had already stated to the City Council what Littlefield had said concerning the two options.

She said that she wants to be clear to the council that there are no guarantees no matter what option is decided on concerning the landfill.

Mayor Kinnamon asked Littlefield what will be done to monitor and prevent ground water contamination. Littlefield replied that there are several wells in the area and that monitoring will be going on to make sure that the ground water will not be contaminated by methane gas or anything else.

BOC Chairman Mark Waddell stated that the BOC favored Option A because of the long-term benefits and that spending $4.7 million for Option A versus $3.9 million for Option B is only about an $800,000.00 difference. “We’ve got to do something and choose a plan and a course of action to move forward before the EPD comes in and says ‘Here’s your course of action and we don’t care how much it costs. This is what you’re going to do.’ We want this county and the city to have a say so to what is going to happen out there,” Waddell said.

Littlefield added that the county does not want to get into a consent order situation with the EPD because if that were to happen, they will tell the county what it will do, how it will be done, when it will be done and there will be fines and penalties.

Mayor Kinnamon asked Littlefield what the current timeline is with the state and the EPD. Littlefield replied that the plans were submitted in July 2020, as was required. “They approved this approach and we were trying to stretch it out over a three-year period by doing it in phases. You’re just spreading that cost further out because in between the phases, you’ll have to do additional work just to cover where the construction is going,” Littlefield said.

Americus City Council Member Kelvin Pless asked Littlefield if the project using Option A has already started. Littlefield replied that they haven’t gotten to the actual capping issue yet and that very minimal work has been done.

The question now is not whether or not the project will be done, but who’s going to pay for it and how. The BOC members expressed their desire to pay by issuing bonds, while the city leaders are considering following the county’s recommendation or paying by some other method. As far as paying by way of bonds, Waddell stated that the BOC needs to know something as soon as possible because the longer they wait, the interest rates will go up and the cost of materials will go up and the price tag of $4.7 million could go up to $5 million in a few months. Waddell also stated that the wording has to be correct in the intergovernmental agreement between all of the municipalities and that the municipalities have to sign an agreement that they will be willing to pay their share. Those things, according to Waddell, could make the delay even longer. Americus City Attorney Jimmy Skipper also stated that a resolution must be made between the county and all of the municipalities as to how the project will be paid for if everybody utilizes the bonds.

The next discussion on the agenda was the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST). Waddell stated that a meeting at which all of the representatives of all of the county’s municipalities must take place to discuss this issue. That meeting is planned for May 16. “Once we have that meeting on May 16, we’ve got 60 days in order to negotiate and make a decision,” Waddell said.

The next agenda was the discussion of roads in the county and the city and which roads belong to either the city or the county. Waddell stated that Littlefield had gone over a list of roads that are surrounded by property that is completely within the city of Americus. Littlefield stated that a state law was enacted in 1983 that states that when land on both sides of a road is annexed, then that part of the road between the two properties also belongs to the entity that is doing the annexing unless there is a joint resolution passed by both governments agreeing to something different.

“To my knowledge, there has never been any kind of joint resolution period whatsoever,” Littlefield said. “By state law, there are roads that we have no right to be maintaining period.” Littlefield went on to say that on July 8, 2021, he met with Chris Wooden, who at that time was the Interim Public Works Director for the city of Americus, along with members of the GIS Department. During that meeting, Littlefield said they all sat down to look at a list of roads. In that meeting, it was decided that some roads make more sense for the county to keep maintaining and some make more sense for the city to take over and maintain. “Other roads, the city would have to take over because they are surrounded by annexation,” Littlefield said. He went on to say that he put together a list of the roads in hopes that the city and the county could come to a joint resolution and agreement as to who would still maintain roads that were partially in the city and partially in the county.

Littlefield added that roads such as Lake Collins Road, Lake Hancock Road and others were completely in the county at one time, but over several years, property was brought in along those roads, creating a situation.

Littlefield stated that he sat down with City of Americus Public Works Director Mike Sistrunk last Monday to discuss these roads that are in question and that it was decided to come up with a joint resolution for the city and the county to consider.

“What we would like is for Mr. Sistrunk and I to have everybody’s agreement that he and I sit down without any interference from anybody at all and go over the list. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s not that big of an issue,” Littlefield said. “We’re not turning bad roads over to you by any way,” Littlefield stated to the city officials and council members. He added that the city would be gaining LMIG miles on the centerline mileage each year. To sum this up, the agreement Littlefield is proposing will determine which roads will be maintained by the county and which roads will be maintained by the City of Americus.

County Administrator Rayetta Volley stated that the original agreement was for Littlefield and Sistrunk to meet together. Then the two of them, along with Volley and Deidara Powell, would all meet together and come up with something to present to both the county and city governments. Officials on both sides agreed with Mrs. Volley to approach the situation that way.

As the discussion on this subject came to a close, Littlefield told the group that he and Sistrunk both agree that both the city and the county need to work together for the public. “No more of this, ‘You get this. You get that’. We’re not doing that,” Littlefield said. “We’re going to work together and get things done. Y’all will look good. I promise,” Littlefield told the city officials and council members.

Finally, the last item on the agenda was what to be done with the old Sumter County Humane Society building property. Waddell stated that Volley told him that the property itself belongs to the city, but the building itself belongs to the county.

In a separate interview with the Americus Times-Recorder, Littlefield stated that due to the condition of the building, the county would demolish it.

Going forward, it was decided amongst officials from both the county and the City of Americus that more joint meetings like the one that took place on Wednesday should be had more frequently and that they should take place about every six months.

The meeting concluded with officials from both the county and the city agreeing that the joint meeting had been very productive.