What's next for trash plan?
Legal wrangling likely to continue into new year

LAWRENCEVILLE - With a Gwinnett County Superior Court ruling this week that will keep the garbage service status quo for the time being, the big question sure to come the county's way is what now?

According to County Administrator Jock Connell, people need to stay patient. The trash issue will be evolving well into 2009.

"I would reiterate that the court order is temporary and that the solid waste management issue will continue to play out over the coming months," he said.

Connell also said county officials are working to set up a meeting with haulers as soon as possible.

For Buddy Johnson, the owner of Southern Sanitation who sought the preliminary injunction against the county and was slated to lose 90 percent of his business had the new plan been allowed to go forward, he said he's headed over to the county government complex Monday morning to have the first meeting.

"I'm going to talk to David Kelly, who's in charge of the service agreements, to make sure everything will remain the same as far as requirements go," Johnson said.

He also said the same thing Connell said - that the injunction is temporary until the issues can be settled in or out of court. Johnson said he had yet to speak with his attorney - former Gov. Roy Barnes - because Barnes was hospitalized Friday for scheduled surgery. But he said how he understood the ruling was that eventually there would be a trial to determine the legality of the two main issues in the case that arose - that of a private, nonprofit corporation like Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful having legislative authority to administer and enforce the county's solid waste plan and whether or not fair bidding practices were employed during the request for proposal process.

Johnson said if this goes to trial, he feels pretty good about the case.

"Judge Michael Clark saw it as it should have been seen and Governor Roy pointed out what needed to be pointed out," Johnson said. "Now it's back to business as usual."

But that won't be as easy for Gwinnett County and Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful or for the two firms that were selected to service Gwinnett County after the New Year - Advanced Disposal Services and Waste Pro.

For the county, the legal fees that will come as result of this injunction are sure to reach into the tens of thousands. And then there is the accountability question that asks "How did the county get here and who's responsible?"

For Waste Pro and Advanced Disposal Services, both firms had already signed 7-year contracts to service Gwinnett and are now set to lose revenue as a result of the ruling. And despite the injunction issued Thursday, Waste Pro officials were witnessed delivering cans Friday morning to nearly 550 homes in the Flowers Crossing subdivision in unincorporated Lawrenceville.

"I was shocked to see them," said resident Anna Coppedge.

According to Connell and a statement of frequently asked questions the county released and has listed on its Web site, the county will be meeting with the haulers involved in the can delivery as soon as practical.

Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful deferred questions Friday based on the advice of their legal counsel and instead issued a statement through their spokesperson Jane Langley.

"We respectfully disagree with Judge Clark's ruling. Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful is committed to continue providing services to the community as we have in the past," the statement read. "The court's decision creates numerous questions, the answers to which cannot be known at this time. We hope there will be clarification soon."

And so do many concerned residents. One of them - Martin Feigen - met with Chairman Charles Bannister on Friday morning to offer what he calls a framework plan to get the county to meet the actual requirements of the state while at the same time mitigating Gwinnett's environmental impact on its natural resources. He said his involvement comes from a similar experience he had while living in California where one hauler was chosen for everyone in an area.

"I just want to help and it's just a framework," said Feigen of his 3-page outline.

In the framework, Feigen calls for an investigation into the entire request for proposal process to see if the public funds were properly spent. He also calls for an open meeting to be held between all the haulers, county officials, and interested residents to discuss developing the solid waste plan. He said this would help in making sure Gwinnett doesn't go down this same road again in 10 years when the plan needs updating again.

But Feigen said Bannister didn't take him seriously Friday morning during the meeting. Calls to Chairman Bannister on Friday went unreturned.

Feigen makes one statement in the plan that jumps off the page.

"Returning the task of oversight of solid waste management to Gwinnett County is an imperative given the mistrust created by the handling of the proposed solid waste plan."