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Snellville postpones air ordinance again

SNELLVILLE - City Council members postponed Monday a vote on enacting a law that would allow Snellville to regulate mercury and dioxin emissions from businesses using incinerators.

The ordinance would affect the crematory on Abington Drive and Eastside Hospital, as both use incinerators to dispose of human bodies and body parts.

The ordinance, which was on Monday's agenda for a second reading and possible adoption, was drafted by councilwoman Kelly Kautz. City attorney Mike Williams had told council members previously that, in his opinion, the city could not legally require businesses to monitor emissions.

Kautz pointed out early that "this ordinance is not against the crematory," but would apply to all businesses incinerating human body parts. "This ordinance puts the responsibility on businesses to monitor and comply," Kautz said.

Kautz said that, based on her many hours of research, she felt confident that neither state nor federal law precludes cities from regulating air emissions.

"Mercury is the focus of this ordinance. It is a neurotoxin that can lead to mercury poisoning," Kautz said, quoting one study that revealed that as many as 8.6 grams of mercury can be released during one cremation.

Kautz also said the cost of monitoring emissions would not fall to residents but to business owners.

Williams recommended the council wait for a legal opinion from the state attorney general, even though Kautz said she found a 1986 opinion that supports her findings. Williams said that preemption, in his opinion, is still an issue and may render a city ordinance null and void.

Council members Barbara Bender and Tod Warner said they preferred waiting to make the decision until they could further review Kautz's ordinance and until the city has the state attorney general opinion.

Council member Robert Jenkins and Mayor Pro Tem Warren Auld sided with Kautz, preferring to go ahead Monday with the vote enacting the ordinance.

Residents who had the chance to speak Monday urged council members to vote to adopt the ordinance immediately and make any necessary changes in the future. Some accused council members and Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer of "delay tactics," trying to wear the public down and wait until council meeting attendance dwindles to make a decision.

Jerry Oberholtzer Jr., the mayor's son, addressed the council, saying the ordinance would be ineffective and was flawed. Kautz said he made errors in reading the ordinance.

Mayor Oberholtzer threatened several times to have people removed from the proceedings if they could not refrain from outbursts.

Following public comment, Kautz revised her motion from one to approve the ordinance to one postponing a vote until the Oct. 27 council meeting, saying that she would rather err on the side of caution than make a decision without the attorney general's opinion.