ATLANTA - The FOX 5 I-Team has found an unregulated landfill in northwest Atlanta hidden from the public, bordering Proctor Creek, and right in the path of future high profile developments.
It's a landfill that wasn't. It wasn't permitted. It wasn't fenced in or closed down. And, it wasn't disclosed to the people who owned property where some of the waste was dumped. People like Jerry Brow.
In 2011 Jerry Brow bought four parcels of land six miles northwest of Downtown Atlanta. His lots sat in the shadow of Gun Club Landfill which the city of Atlanta shut down twenty years earlier But, he could see Atlanta's future.
His land was located in the backyard of the Proctor Creek Greenway, which will eventually pass through the Westside Reservoir Park and connect to the Atlanta Beltline. While he waited, he fought with the city over trash dumped on city streets and his property.
"I've witnessed piles of dirt being dumped here," Brow told us during a tour of the neighborhood.
But this is not a story about the trash he could see. It is about this hidden dumpsite. Hidden from the public, but known to the city for years. Acres of waste and who knows what dumped on private land, some of it the land Jerry bought. An area so big, and so full of waste, it became known as Baby Gun Club landfill.
Moses Williams says he watched it happen. He bought a house on Gun Club road in 1966. In this 1968 aerial photograph, you can see a road curling back behind his property to a clear stretch of land. That patch of land is what years later would be named Baby Gun Club Landfill by an engineer hired by the city. Williams says soon after he moved in he'd see Atlanta city trucks dumping waste in the clearing.
"I didn't get but an 8th-grade education, but I can read. It was a city truck, insists Williams.
"We were kids; we were here playing, that is all I can tell you and it was a dump, says Mark Carpenter. Carpenter remembers playing on that dumpsite. He was nine when he moved to Gun club road in 1975. He remembers Atlanta city trucks dumping waste. He says he and his buddies would play on what they called the mountain of trash.
"We were disposing of stuff in the 70’s that today we call hazardous waste. So, you’re getting the possibility of all kinds of things migrating into the groundwater into Proctor Creek, and then the river and its uncontrolled"
"We wouldn't be out there while they were doing it (dumping trash). We would wait till they'd leave. That's when we had our party," laughs Carpenter.
Bert Langley isn't surprised. He was the former director of enforcement and compliance for the State Environmental Protection Division.
"We had hundreds, maybe thousands of open dumps all over the state. Kind of like the wild, wild west," says Langley.
He says in the '60s and early '70s the state was overflowing with unregulated dumpsites. There was little understanding of the dangers of toxic waste, decomposing - producing methane and an often dangerous liquid called leachate.
"We were disposing of stuff in the ’70s that today we call hazardous waste. So, you’re getting the possibility of all kinds of things migrating into the groundwater into Proctor Creek, and then the river and it's uncontrolled," says Langley.
In 1977 the city got an official state permit to run Gun Club Landfill. Signs and fences went up. But, not on the land later called Baby Gun Club. There was no permit. No signage. Nothing on the map. No warning of any kind. The city didn't even own the land.
What was dumped there?
"You name it everything. Fifty-five-gallon drums, asbestos, paint. Who knows what," says Brow.
With no official name, no permit, no fence, and no signage, years later developers and land speculators like Jerry Brow unknowingly bought parcels bordering Baby Gun Club Landfill.
Seven years ago Southern Cross Financial, a development company that bought land adjoining Baby Gun Club, sued the city over this hidden dumpsite. The suit claims Baby Gun club waste "encroaches and crosses" onto their property. The company accused the city of dumping "207,906 cubic yards" across their land.
The suit was settled. The city paid Southern Cross Financial $275,000.
Reporter: (Could it become worse?)
Langley: Yes. You don’t know what is there. That's the big concern to everybody.
So, when the city shut down Gun Club Landfill due to complaints in the early '90s, nothing was done to Baby Gun Club Landfill - or done to inform citizens or investors like Jerry Brow. He bought four parcels near here with an eye to the future. He had no idea Baby Gun Club was a dumpsite.
In a lawsuit, Brow accused the city of maintaining a "non-compliant landfill" and "illegal dumping on private property" But, later the city of Atlanta condemned his land saying they needed it to monitor the Gun Club Landfill.
The appraiser wrote one of Jerry's parcels would have been worth $95,000 but set it at only $1 because of "reported municipal waste deposited on site." In the end, taxpayers paid $275,000 for his four parcels.
Brow, moved away and left with a bitter taste in his mouth.
"Guess what, you can't fight city hall. They beat me down. They drove me the point, of what else can I do," said Brow.
City officials did not respond to our request to discuss Baby Gun Club Landfill. In the Southern Cross Financial lawsuit the city admitted there was waste dumped on the site, but denied doing any of the dumping.
Despite repeated attempts to reach out to the city of Atlanta officials during a month-long investigation, city officials refused to discuss what happened and what's next.
The Georgia EPD has told us Baby Gun Club predates state solid waste disposal laws and so it is not subject to laws that close landfills. They also claim they while monitoring the Gun Cub Landfill they have found no evidence of any environmental hazards at the Baby Gun Club Landfill.
Whatever is there in the ground, appears to be there to stay.