Carter writes Gates to halt coal ash expansion at landfill near Jesup

Former President Jimmy Carter and Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, have been enlisted in the fight to keep millions of tons of toxic coal ash out of a South Georgia landfill.

Carter wrote a letter in late June to Gates, reportedly the largest shareholder of the landfill company, beseeching the Microsoft founder to “help to prevent this environmental derogation.”

Opponents of the Broadhurst Environmental Landfill near Jesup say the dump — which has already leached beryllium and other toxic byproducts of coal ash into the groundwater — would further endanger the water as well as creeks and rivers. Republic Services is seeking state and federal permission for a rail spur to handle up to 10,000 tons of coal ash daily.

“This will adversely impact some favorite streams of mine, where my father took me fishing many years ago,” Carter wrote June 28 in a handwritten note to Gates.

A representative from Cascade Investment, Gates’ asset management firm, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Carter’s letter underscores the range of tactics landfill opponents are deploying to keep more coal ash out of South Georgia landfills. They’ve filled public hearings, hired attorneys, penned strident editorials, lobbied elected officials, established an anti-coal ash website and filed countless comments with state and federal permitting agencies. All to keep Republic, the nation’s No. 2 waste-disposal company, from bringing as many as 100 train car loads of coal ash daily to Wayne County.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to decide this fall whether Republic gets a wetlands permit to build a 25-acre rail yard alongside the landfill. As much as 4 million tons annually of coal ash, which contains arsenic, chromium, lead and other toxic metals, could be imported mostly from other states.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier this year that beryllium and zinc “above regulatory standards” had been detected in Broadhurst’s soil and groundwater in 2011, yet the coal ash facilities weren’t shuttered until two years later. Republic began cleanup last fall, and state environmental officials say the metals, which could cause cancer and damage to the nervous system, haven’t reached the wetlands.

“We also share President Carter’s conviction that the wetlands in Wayne County are worth every effort to preserve and protect,” Republic spokesman Russ Knocke said. “We remain committed to being a good neighbor and doing our part to ensure the preservation of this special ecosystem.”

Dink NeSmith, the owner of The Jesup Press-Sentinel and two dozen other newspapers, has led the anti-coal ash charge. NeSmith, who grew up in Jesup, wrote to Carter that the Little Satilla River — “one of your favorite fishing spots” — could be endangered by a coal ash leak.

“Bill Gates may not listen to me, but I hope he’ll listen to the 39th president of the United States,” NeSmith said Monday. “We are honored President Carter joined our fight to protect our environment.”

Carter couldn’t be reached Monday for further comment.

Gates, worth $78 billion, according to Forbes magazine, is Republic’s largest shareholder, controlling 32 percent of its common stock through Cascade Investment. Michael Larson, the business manager for Cascade, sits on Republic’s board.

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