Resolution does little to appease Buffalo residents, County responds

Published 10:35 am Wednesday, June 5, 2024

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Heated discussions between the citizens of Buffalo and Chambers County Commissioners capped off an eventful meeting of the Commission. 

The meeting began with public comment from a resident of the Buffalo area. A citizen prepared a statement in which she formally proposed the county sell the land. 

In a phone interview, Buffalo citizen Brandon Clifton said, “We’re disappointed that they tried to pacify us with a [resolution] knowing well what Commissioner [James] Williams has said, ‘it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.’ We wish they would put it in an actual covenant in that would have some legal binding… We’re just disappointed that they are not willing to hear out the community.”

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The land was bought for the intended purpose of being a vegetative debris site in events of natural disasters, where storm debris would degrade through burning, chipping, and grinding. 

Members of the Buffalo community, where the site is located, have protested the site, argued the county has “lacked transparency” during the purchasing process, as well as expressed concerns that the site will be used for purposes other than a debris site in the future. 

According to documents supplied by Harvill that detail the site, the Commission intends to use 3.3 acres of the over 37 acres purchased for the reduction (burning, chipping and grinding) of vegetative debris. The document states that this reduction will be done “as conditions warrant” and approved by ADEM, AFC, AEMA and FEMA. Other parts of the land can be used for “temporary storage” if needed during times of emergencies, however, the land must be returned to “pre-disaster conditions.”

County Engineer Josh Harvill said the county is required to follow state and federal regulations relating to the debris site. 

In an email, Harvill explained the purchase of the land saying, “Unfortunately, over just the past 5 years, there have been numerous examples of significant natural disasters affecting our state and the counties and cities within. Reflecting on the impacts that Chambers County has encountered and the unfortunate much more severe impacts on some of the other Counties in the state, our Commission identified a need.”

He continues by saying that the site is an efficient way to deal with natural disaster debris. The landfill is currently used for this purpose, but there is a fee due to the landfill being privately operated. Harvill explained that the County had two sites they owned but that did not meet the geographic and topographic requirements for a debris site. The county then moved forward with the intent sold those two properties. One has been sold, while a small portion of the other site has been sold.

“Knowing not all natural disasters are offset financially through federal and state assistance, the Commission’s desire is to have as many options as possible with the resolve to respond more efficiently while reducing the financial burden on the County,” Harvill stated. 

He ended the statement by saying the Commission has never considered the site for a potential landfill, which has been a concern voiced by some of the residents.  

While there was no immediate response from the Commission after public comment, Commission Doug Jones introduced a resolution that aimed to alleviate the concerns of the Buffalo citizens. 

The resolution reads, “It is the intent of the Chambers County Commission to utilize the 34.723 acres of property located along US Highway 431…as a temporary vegetative debris site.”

Later it reads, “The County does not intend for the Debris Reduction Site to be used as a Construction & Demolition Landfill, Solid Waste Landfill or any other federal or state regulated landfill which would be contrary to the intent of this resolution.”

The resolution ends by reaffirming its intent to be used for agricultural purposes except during times of natural disasters, whether locally, statewide or nationally. Per FEMA regulations, these sites can qualify for financial relief if the President of the United States, or the state’s Governor declares a state of emergency. 

The county said the resolution was in response to the Buffalo citizens’ concerns. However, many of the residents at the Monday meeting were displeased with the resolution. 

Chairman of the Commission, James “Moto” Williams, said in a phone call later that the resolution was used to detail the property’s intended use. He explained that the intended use of a vegetative debris site means the site is legally required to comply with regulations set forth by the ADEM, the Alabama arm of the EPA. 

“That’s what [Buffalo citizens] had been asking for, was intent, and we mentioned all the legal stuff in that [resolution], that we have to answer to like ADEM and all them,” Williams said. 

Part of the resolution addresses the operation of the debris site saying the county will be in compliance with, “current or future Alabama Department of Environmental Management Agency (ADEM), Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC), Alabama Emergency Agency (AEMA), Federal Emergency (FEMA), and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) guidelines and regulations.”

When the meeting adjourned some of the Buffalo citizens in attendance approached the Commissioners about their concerns. 

After some back and forth, Commissioner Debra Riley said, “Only time and watching what we are going to do, will heal.”

A citizen from Buffalo disputed this statement and argued that property values would drop as a result of burnings. Riley responded that the city of Valley has burned more in the past couple of years than the site will and it hasn’t affected the properties.

Brandon Clifton, of Buffalo, took issue with the staying power of a resolution. Clifton thanked the Commission for the resolution but said, “We need something more.”