FAA warning could lead to rejection of waste station expansion in Cobb

It took birds to ground a south Cobb-area waste transfer station’s plans for expansion: After months of deliberations, Cobb County’s planners are recommending against the plan, and county commissioners could reject the proposal Tuesday.

The Bankhead C&D Transfer Station in Mableton along Veterans Memorial Highway had petitioned the county for a zoning change to allow it to take in household garbage. The company currently takes in construction and demolition waste, and the expansion would allow Bankhead Transfer to take in about 150,000 tons of waste each year.

Initially the county’s planners had recommended the request, but changed their stance after the Federal Aviation Administration said the garbage facility would be too close to the Fulton County Airport. Concerns are that the garbage would attract birds, which could interfere with flights.

“We did notify the applicant and they weren’t all that happy about it, but we felt like Charlie Brown Airport is a huge asset for the region,” said Rob Hosack, Cobb’s community development director. “Anytime there are potential safety issues involved, we felt it was important to revise the recommendation.”

Bankhead Transfer’s attorney Garvis Sams did not return a call and email for comment.

If commissioners reject the zoning, Bankhead Transfer cannot reapply to the county for 12 months, Hosack said, but it can file an appeal with the county’s Superior Court.

The FAA letter, dated April 18, was written just a day before two planes, including Air Force Two carrying Vice President Joe Biden, struck birds in California and New York. Another commercial flight, bound for Florida, had to make an emergency return to Westchester Airport in New York after another bird strike less than a week later.

Residents of the Legacy at the River Line neighborhood just down the road from the transfer station have lobbied lawmakers for months to reject the expansion request. A large contingent of residents is expected Tuesday to present to commissioners a petition of more than 1,700 names in opposition of Bankhead Transfer’s request.

While the FAA letter is significant, it shouldn’t have been necessary, said Sheila Edwards, who has become the residents’ unofficial spokeswoman.

“It shouldn’t have taken the FAA to be the ones to say no. We would have wanted the county to say no based on the fact that this is within 1,000 feet of our homes and close to the [Chattahoochee] River,” said Edwards, who has lived in the area since 2006. “[Flight safety] is important, but quality of life is just as important.”

For the residents, the larger issue is Bankhead Transfer’s ongoing violation of its existing permit, Edwards said.

The company was cited in January 2011 and again in March of this year for accepting the household garbage. Sams has said the company’s previous owners received permission from state authorities to take in the household garbage starting in 2010. The company applied for a county permit nine months after the citation last year. Bankhead Transfer is expected in court Thursday on the garbage citations.

“Our community has become the dumping ground for this illegal operation,” Edwards said. “We want the county to do the right thing to enforce the laws on the books and stop this activity once and for all.”

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