Judge orders work to stop at controversial Stonecrest recycling plant

This is an aerial photo of the Metro Green Recycling plant site in Stonecrest.

Credit: Citizens for a Healthy and Safe Environment

Combined ShapeCaption
This is an aerial photo of the Metro Green Recycling plant site in Stonecrest.

Credit: Citizens for a Healthy and Safe Environment

A DeKalb County judge reversed course Wednesday afternoon and ruled that all construction and work must stop at a controversial concrete recycling plant until the case is closed.

DeKalb Superior Court Judge Tangela Barrie granted an injunction requested by a citizen-led activist group to stop work at the site. The same judge had earlier denied a request to shut down the plant as questions swirled about what government agency had approved the plant so close to homes.

Both Stonecrest and Citizens for a Healthy and Safe Environment (CHASE) claim the company improperly received authorization from a state regulator to move forward with a facility that could expose residents to pollution. Metro Green disputes those allegations, but the company will be forced to stop work until further notice.

“We are pleased with today’s decision to halt Metro Green’s construction and solid waste handling operations, which provides at least some necessary relief from the constant noise, dust and odors our communities have had to endure for nearly a year,” CHASE president Renee Cail said in an emailed statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We feel that justice has finally been served.”

Neither Metro Green’s attorney nor the attorney for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and its director, who are also defendants in the case, immediately responded to requests for comment following the rulings.

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The concrete recycler began construction in early 2020 on a 50-acre property located near neighborhoods in Stonecrest. The project prompted protests from neighbors, who complained of noise and dust ruining their subdivisions.

The judge, who has studied the facts of the case for the past year, said she now believes DeKalb County, and not Stonecrest, should have been the agency to approve or deny the plant.

How a permit was obtained

Metro Green operates two concrete recycling plants in the Atlanta area and began trying to expand into DeKalb in 2018. The company chose a large property that was already zoned for industrial use near Snapfinger Woods Drive and Miller Road in Stonecrest, a city chartered in 2017.

Metro Green pitched the project to Stonecrest city leaders who said they didn’t have the authority to write a letter of approval to the EPD. The city referred the company to DeKalb, but county officials denied the proposal because it didn’t comply with its Solid Waste Management Plan. Metro Green then pitched the project again to Stonecrest city leaders, who ultimately granted approval.

“There’s nothing that says why Stonecrest all of a sudden believed it had the authority to sign something,” Barrie said Wednesday. “It was clear it did not have the authority to sign this a few weeks before, because they sent them (Metro Green) to DeKalb. So it’s clear they knew they couldn’t sign it.”

She said that information might come out during discovery as the case progresses.

Following the endorsement from Stonecrest’s mayor and former city manager, the EPD approved Metro Green’s application for a solid waste handling permit, which allows facilities to take in unsorted construction debris for processing and recycling.

Matt Benson, Metro Green’s attorney, previously argued Stonecrest is the “host jurisdiction” for the facility and that the EPD was correct to rely on Stonecrest’s letters of approval to issue the permit.

Determining legal precedent

DeKalb elected officials, the Stonecrest City Council and environmental activists decried the permit’s approval and the facility’s groundbreaking. Last August, Stonecrest filed a lawsuit against Metro Green to try to stop work, but Barrie denied that injunction at the time. However, she changed her position Wednesday.

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Initially, Barrie said neither DeKalb nor Stonecrest had provided scientific data to back up the health concerns of having a waste facility near residential homes. On Wednesday, she cited a 2006 Georgia Supreme Court case that she said gives counties power to approve or deny projects that could harm residents without verified data.

DeKalb leaders said the county’s Solid Waste Management Plan called for reducing the number of recycling plants to protect residents’ health, which Barrie said is enough for them to deny Metro Green’s project.

“(DeKalb) is concerned about the amount of waste that was being placed in south DeKalb, and they were concerned about the health and well-being of their residents,” Barrie said.

CHASE was allowed the join the lawsuit against Metro Green in January and immediately filed a similar temporary restraining order in hopes of stopping construction on the site.

Barrie said Metro Green knew about the controversy and continued construction on the facility anyway, so she said the company can’t be surprised by the injunction or any monetary damages it causes. (Story continues below timeline.)

  • Nov. 8, 2016

    Residents in south DeKalb County voted to form Stonecrest. Jason Lary would soon be elected as the city’s first mayor.

  • June 17, 2018

    Metro Green Recycling contacted Tracy Hutchinson, the DeKalb Sanitation Division Director, to pitch a construction and demolition recycling facility project. She denied the request, saying it isn’t consistent with the county’s Solid Waste Management Plan.

  • Oct. 31, 2018

    Michael Harris, Stonecrest’s former city manager, wrote a letter to the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) that said Metro Green’s plans complied with the city’s zoning laws and county’s solid waste plan. Lary previously sent letters approving the project in May 2018.

  • Dec. 3, 2018

    The EPD received Metro Green’s application for a solid waste handling permit, which includes references to the Stonecrest letters of approval.

  • Oct. 1, 2019

    The EPD, overseen by Director Richard Dunn, issues the permit.

  • July 1, 2020

    Lary issued a stop-work order on the construction on Metro Green. However, he removed the stop-work order 13 days later, citing fears of potential legal action.

  • Aug. 6, 2020

    At the request of the City Council, Stonecrest filed a temporary restraining order lawsuit against Metro Green and DeKalb County to try to stop ongoing construction. The EPD and Dunn would be added as defendants in September.

  • Dec. 30, 2020

    The Citizens for a Healthy and Safe Environment (CHASE), a citizen advocacy group, was added as a plaintiff.

  • Feb. 5, 2021

    CHASE files a motion for a temporary restraining order, attempting to stop current and future construction at the Metro Green site.

  • Sept. 15, 2021

    DeKalb Superior Court Judge Tangela Barrie granted CHASE’s motion for a temporary restraining order, preventing Metro Green from continuing work on the site until the case concludes.

Both the city and CHASE ultimately want the EPD to revoke the permit, which is why the agency and its director, Richard Dunn, are also defendants in the case. Barrie said they’re involvement in this case changes it, since Dunn has the authority to review and revoke the permit if it was granted incorrectly.

The judge referenced several DeKalb politicians who have penned letters in hopes of getting Dunn to revoke the permit. Barrie said the court can’t make Dunn revoke the permit, but it can tell him he needs to reevaluate it.

She hasn’t mandated for Dunn to look back through Metro Green’s permit, but she indicated that could happen before she closes the case. The next hearing date has not been scheduled.

CHASE said it’s confident it will stop the plant from opening.

“We look forward to continuing to present our case that this massive solid waste site should have never been approved in the first place, and that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division must now act in the public interest to correct this mistake by revoking the permit,” Cail said.