North Georgia city halts liquid landfill deliveries following I-Team Investigation

The Blairsville City Council has voted to halt all deliveries of potentially toxic landfill wastewater known as leachate to its wastewater treatment plant.

The vote followed an I-Team investigation that raised questions about a powerful state senator striking the deal with very little publicity to deliver the leachate to the city.

It took only minutes to end a year's worth of environmental controversy. The Blairsville City Council in North Georgia voted last week to stop all deliveries of landfill wastewater to their local treatment plant.

(Is that success for your group?)  "I think it is a major success,"  says Lake Nottely Improvement Association President Doy Lively.

Lively couldn't believe his ears as he listened to the council meeting on Zoom.

"I was absolutely elated. My wife and I were sitting there together we were high fiving, hoping our mute button was working," said Lively.

This is how it happened. Around May of 2019 powerful State Senator Steve Gooch - who represents this district - proposed trucking leachate from a landfill 35 miles away in Forsyth County to the Blairsville Waste Water Treatment Plant.

Leachate is when rain mixes with landfill waste and creates a sort of toxic soup from all the decomposing chemicals and waste products.   By law, it has to be removed and treated.

"You may get pesticides from people's homes, you may get carpet scraps, these kinds of things that contain chemicals," said Bert Langley a former EPD official.

Blairsville Mayor Jim Conley said he did it for the 5 cents a gallon Senator Gooch's company would pay the city. 

(Was politics at play at all in this decision?) "Absolutely not," said Conley.

Sen. Gooch would not do an interview but issued a statement explaining his long time wastewater treatment company, TWA, has been "traveling the state" offering leachate removal services to landfills across Georgia. He says his payments to Blairsville were based "solely on market rates."  

Last week, the Blairsville city council met for the first time since our report aired.  The council voted unanimously to officially halt all leachate deliveries after Senator Gooch's company stopped making leachate deliveries. Mayor Jim Conley offered no explanation.

Senator Steve Gooch wrote us saying he halted shipments due to lake owner’s concern in spite of meeting all "federal and state water quality standards" and  EPA laboratory testing finding "no evidence of contamination"  Gooch added he has "no intention of revisiting this issue in the future."

"I think we have had our voices heard," said Ross Malme of the Lake Nottely Improvement Association.

Lake Nottely homeowners, who have met with Senator Gooch, written letters to the local newspaper editor, put up a Facebook page and even ran ads are cautiously optimistic.

"We want to take a long term view on this. This body of water behind me here is very pristine, and we want to see it stay that way for years to come," says Malme.

Lake Nottely homeowners say the won the battle but not the war. They plan to fight the city's application to the EPA to increase the amount the plant can release from 400,000 gallons to a million gallons a day. That application includes the processing of leachate.