By Linton Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org
Residents of Elbert, Lincoln, Wilkes and Oglethorpe Counties gathered at the Elbert County Library on Thursday evening to discuss ongoing concerns about pollution of the Broad River and surrounding areas on the southern end of Elbert County, which they say is a result of waste dumping and runoff from the Broad River Valley Farms operation.
Pam Allgood, coordinator of the group, opened the meeting by talking about the recent approval by the Georgia House of Representatives of House Bill 545. “Some of us have been kind of working behind the scenes trying to figure out what to do, and then all of a sudden last week, Dr. Frank Carl, who is sitting in the back, sent an email saying ‘did you know about this House Bill 545?’”
According to Carl, the legislation limits the ability for neighboring residents to file a nuisance claim against waste dumping operations. “HB 545 effectively eliminates the four-year statute of limitation for nuisance claims against agricultural operations and expands the one-year statute of repose of all nuisance claims, regardless of whether the plaintiff comes to the nuisance or the nuisance comes to the plaintiff. That’s a big difference between current law and the new law.”
Rep. Tom McCall of Elberton, chairman of the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, sponsored HB 545 and told WSGC News Friday any idea that the bill protects the dumping of waste in the Broad River area is a misconception.
“Georgia is a right to farm state, but there are some loopholes,” McCall said. “What this does is help farmers that are doing things right. I wrote in it that if somebody’s doing something negligent, illegal or improper, then they could still have a suit brought against them. Of course, somebody can sue for anything at any time, but that adds a little teeth back into for somebody that’s not doing it right. We’re not trying to protect people that are not doing right and not being good neighbors. I’ve had questions about does it protect what’s going on down there on the Broad River. It absolutely does not. Matter of fact, it gives another avenue for somebody to do something about it.”
The bill was approved March 7 by a vote of 107-58 in the House of Representatives and is now under consideration by the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, where 24th District State Sen. Lee Anderson is vice chairman. McCall said he, Anderson and Rep. Trey Rhodes of Greensboro will host Elbert County Commission Chairman Lee Vaughn, Oglethorpe County Chairman Billy Pittard and Wilkes County Chairman Sam Moore for a meeting at the Capitol to discuss the issues with Environmental Protection Division, Department of Agriculture and Governor’s Office officials.
Meanwhile, the concerns continue about the environmental impact in and around the Broad River, as expressed by Elbert County resident Jim Corder. “We were at the shoals yesterday. My brother-in-law went down there Monday to fish, and he let us know about something he came across. So we went down there yesterday, and I counted 16 dead turtles. They didn’t just die, they were out of the water about 40 yards up a really steep bank where they crawled up, and they’re dead.”