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County plans environmental justice hearing
by Noreen Cochran
June 27, 2013 03:33 PM | 1814 views | 0 0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Fulton County Board of Commissioners may enact landmark legislation at its next meeting July 17 if it approves an environmental justice amendment to the county zoning ordinance.

Randy Beck, environment and community development deputy director, said it will create stricter rules about “certain land uses deemed to be adverse to natural resources,” near residential neighborhoods in the county’s unincorporated areas.

“This ordinance seeks to further add to what we’ve done in the past by adding acceptable separation distances between uses that are ‘environmentally adverse’ and communities that are ‘environmentally stressed,’” he said at the June 19 commission meeting about new definitions. “It’s further identifying uses that are deemed harmful and future uses that may be on the horizon.”

It could be the first in the U.S.

“Staff found there was no similar type of legislation being considered for adoption or already adopted in U.S. However, research did show that in 2005 a study was prepared for the Environmental Protection Authority of Australia. The Australia study, therefore, became the basis of our analysis,” Beck said.

If adopted, residents will not have new landfills or new hazardous material storage facilities within a half-mile of their neighborhoods or, in some cases, 300 feet.

“It depends on what they do and what their byproducts are,” Beck said about business owners.

Commissioner and Vice Chair Emma Darnell said the law will be good for business development in south Fulton.

“The growth in Fulton County is not near chemical plants where residents [live] 1,000 feet from a sewage plant like they do in Marion Woods in south Fulton,” she said. “The growth is in north Fulton. Businesses don’t want to go near a chemical plant.”

Darnell said research indicates an indirect correlation between pollution and prosperity.

“The fewer pollution points you have, the more businesses you have,” she said. “Businesses don’t like to be located in areas that pose potential risks to their customers and their families.”

Commissioner William “Bill” Edwards said amending the zoning law should not prevent new business from coming in to places like the Fulton Industrial Boulevard corridor, the target of county revitalization efforts.

“We’re not saying you can’t bring a business to the corridor,” he said. “[Beck] said based on the type of business you bring to the corridor dictates how far you’re going to be from a residential community.”

Although the matter has been on and off agendas since October, which included the ordinance amendment’s required two public hearings, by a 6-0 vote the commission agreed to defer it again until July 17.

A third public hearing during that meeting may include speakers from the Marion Woods subdivision and Robert Broome, governmental affairs director of the Atlanta Commercial Board of Realtors, who is slated to present an environmental justice economic impact analysis.

“We are a thought leader. I’m not opposed to being a national first on any issue,” said Commissioner Liz Hausmann. “However, I think it’s very important that we get all the information we can. We should hear the economic impact study and delay this decision.”

The term “justice” refers to a direct relationship between pollution points and disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“Science indicates that if a community is minority, or low-income, or what they call ‘language isolated,’ the [better the] chances that they will have the highest concentration of landfills, water treatment plants and facilities that have been permitted by the EPD and EPA as imposing great risk to the populations,” Darnell said at the April 17 meeting.

The U.S. EPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment for people of all races, cultures, and incomes, regarding the development of environmental laws, regulations and policies,” according to its website.

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