Commissioners last week approved an ordinance that bans the application of Class B sewage sludge in Dawson County, despite a state law that regulates sludge and trumps local policy.
"I don't want to give the impression that we're throwing our hands up and saying there you go, do what you want to do," said commissioner Jimmy Hamby, who made the motion to approve the measure. "I want to fight it to the end.
"I don't want these people to have sludge there. I don't want it in our county. I don't want it anywhere around us."
County Attorney Joey Homans drafted the ordinance after a developer in neighboring Forsyth County filed an application with the state Environmental Protection Division to amend the Hampton Creek Water Reclamation Facility sludge management plan.
According to his application, Ken Curren wants to place partially treated liquid waste from the Forsyth plant on about 65 acres at Lumpkin Campground and Harry Sosebee roads in Dawson.
The new ordinance cites the nation's Clean Water Act that allows "local governments to determine the manner" sludge can be deposited.
Commissioner Gary Pichon was the lone board member to speak against the ordinance.
Pichon did, however, end up supporting the measure, which was approved in a 3-0 vote. Commissioner James Swafford was absent.
Pichon called the enactment of local policy that is governed by state law "almost silliness."
"I, too, am opposed to the application of sludge, but I'm not in favor of this ordinance," he said.
Reading from a handbook given for county commissioners, Pichon said the issue is about the inability for enforcement.
"Counties have no intrinsic right to write a law other than what the state government gives us. This is what our handbook says when they train us," he said.
"Commissioners may adopt clearly reasonable ordinances, resolutions or regulations relating to county property, affairs and government."
Pichon continued: "It goes on to say, for example, in a situation in which the state regulates the application on sludge to land, the county cannot adopt and enforce an ordinance that also regulates the application of sludge, because there is no other state law authorizing the county to regulate it."
Homans agreed enforcement would "be an uphill challenge."
However, Commission Chair Mike Berg, who called the ordinance a tool in the county's toolbox, said approving the policy prepares Dawson for the future.
He hopes the state legislature will take up the cause during its 2013 session.
"This is just a policy and our policy can react to what happens tomorrow as well as it can react to what happens next year," Berg said. "If our legislature decides next year that they would like to do something about their state law, then we will have ... a policy in effect that would address that and address any future issues that may arise.
"We have policies all the time that try to address what we think are the interests of the society and I think this one of them."
More than 200 residents and business leaders attended the two public hearings the county was required to hold on the matter.
They voiced concerns over potential pathogens seeping into the water supply, diminishing property values and a drop in sales tax revenue.
The site is within one mile of 15 percent of Dawson's population and the busy Ga. 400 corridor, which includes the North Georgia Premium Outlets, the county's largest source of sales tax revenue.
Opponents of the application have also collected more than 3,000 signatures on petitions distributed by the Dawson County Homeowner's and Civic Association.
According to the group's president Jane Graves, the association and several community members are also considering taking legal action against Curren's application.
There was no community opposition to the ordinance, and Curren did not attend the hearings.
He did, however, meet with neighboring property owners to discuss his plans, which call for applying 55 dry tons of liquid Class B biosolids annually on the 160-acre tract that was initially zoned for a residential subdivision.
According to EPD's Web site, Class B biosolids are treated but still contain detectible levels of pathogens.
There will be a 30-day comment period for the general public to make comments to EPD regarding the plan. Notification of the comment period will be published as a legal notice in the Dawson Community News and the Forsyth County News.