[sixties-l] At Odds in Alabama Over a Landfill on a Historic Trail

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 10/02/00

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    At Odds in Alabama Over a Landfill on a Historic Trail
    AYNEVILLE, Ala., Oct. 1
    Other than scruffy banks of pine and
    poplar, and the occasional barbecue house and gas station, the
    rolling land along the highway that stretches from Selma to
    Montgomery offers little more than its rich red Alabama soil and the
    collective memory of its people.
    For some, the bounty of this land lies in its Selma chalk soil. They
    call it "mother nature's cement," a tightly packed clay said to be
    ideally suited for a landfill. That is exactly what a businessman, a
    friend of the Alabama governor, has proposed to build off Highway 80,
    with a promise to accept no garbage from outside Alabama and to share
    his proceeds with destitute Lowndes County. Local politicians,
    pinning their hopes on the landfill to bring revenue and a few jobs
    to a county where nearly 40 percent of the 13,000 residents live
    below the poverty line, have approved his proposal.
    For others here, the wealth of this land is its place in the civil
    rights movement. It was here, along Highway 80, in March 1965, that a
    54-mile march, from Selma to Montgomery, led to the passage of the
    1965 Voting Rights Act. Along this highway, black farmers let the
    marchers camp overnight on their land. Here, the day after the march,
    a civil rights volunteer, a Detroit housewife named Viola Liuzzo, was
    gunned down. And along this highway, black sharecroppers, evicted for
    daring register to vote, built a settlement called Tent City.
    Some of these spots have been marked since the National Park Service
    designated this stretch of Highway 80 a national historic trail.
    Since then, too, many people here have dreamed of one day seeing
    hotels and restaurants dot the highway, drawing tourists and creating
    jobs. To them and to many more people outside, including the Rev.
    Jesse Jackson, who spoke at an anti-dump rally last month, and John
    Lewis, a congressman from Georgia who marched in 1965, a dump is the
    ultimate affront, a case of environmental racism.
    "It's an insult," said Bob Mants, who also marched alongside Mr.
    Lewis as an organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
    Committee and who now heads the Lowndes County Friends of the Trail.
    "You can't commemorate it on the one hand and desecrate it on the
    And yet, this is not a duel of old-time Deep South enemies. Unlike
    many things in Alabama, the fight over the landfill has divided
    traditional allies and united blacks and whites on both sides. In
    fact, everybody in this fight seems eager to display their own civil
    rights stripes.
    The landfill's most vocal champion, for instance, is John Hulett, the
    county's first black sheriff, now the probate judge and the county's
    de facto political boss. Mr. Hulett, 72, helped erect Tent City and
    establish the country's first black political party, Lowndes County
    Freedom Party. The county commission that approved the proposed
    landfill in 1998, convinced that it would not affect the civil rights
    trail because it would be set back from the highway by at least 500
    feet, has a black majority. The lawyers representing the county in
    the landfill case work for the firm of Henry Sanders, a black state
    senator and a civil rights stalwart.
    Meanwhile, as Mr. Hulett points out with relish, landfill opponents
    include the residents of the tony, overwhelmingly white town of
    Lowndesboro, who, he says, have never cared about the county's black
    majority. "We didn't have any white participation in the civil rights
    movement in this town," Mr. Hulett snapped, sitting in his office
    here in the county seat. "Suddenly, it's the trail they're interested
    For his part, the Lowndesboro mayor, John H. Nichols, 66, a white
    man, points to his civil rights credentials: He was a national
    guardsman circling the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a helicopter, watching
    as marchers were beaten. "Then I realized, we are not free," Mr.
    Nichols recalled the other evening. "That trail is as much mine as it
    is anybody's. I was there."
    Landfills are a major source of revenue for Alabama. There are 25
    dumps statewide that take household waste alone. Much of it comes
    from out of state; Alabamans produce only a third of the landfills'
    capacity of 31,500 tons daily. The issue of non-Alabama trash has
    become a favorite target of some politicians. Earlier this year, Gov.
    Donald Siegelman opposed a proposed landfill in Macon County, since
    withdrawn, because it would have accepted out-of-state trash.
    The governor has remained silent on the Lowndes site, to be developed
    by Lanny Young, a Montgomery businessman, race-car team owner and
    political consultant who is a friend and former roommate of the
    governor's chief of staff, Paul Hamrick. Mr. Young's company already
    collects Lowndes County trash. His political consulting firm
    represents Waste Management Inc., one of the country's biggest
    landfill companies.
    Mr. Young acquired land and a state permit for another landfill, in
    Cherokee County, and quickly sold it at what he called a handsome
    The state environmental agency has approved his proposed 200-acre,
    $6.8 million landfill, which would bring in a maximum of 1,500 tons
    of household garbage and construction debris into a shallow valley
    encircled by a ridge of pine and oak.
    His development is at a standstill now. Residents have appealed to a
    state agency that oversees state permits for landfills. Mr. Young has
    sued officials from the town of Lowndesboro, who claim that they
    should have some legal authority over the project; the landfill would
    fall within the town's police jurisdiction but outside town limits.
    Mr. Young recently declared personal bankruptcy, but said it will not
    affect the plans for the project.
    The county, he said, could gain up to $350,000 a year, a considerable
    sum for Lowndes and roughly 5 percent of the landfill's expected
    gross revenues. Mr. Young would also donate 30 acres for
    archaeological digs and build a kiosk on the highway to display
    Lowndes history.
    Quemeller Lane, 54, whose family has lived in Burkville, just west of
    the dump site, for over a century, had not known much about the civil
    rights struggles here, or about the 1965 march, until she moved here
    from Pensacola, Fla., 26 years ago. To learn it filled her with
    "To have this honor, this prestige, this highway being named a
    national trail, and they come along and they say, `We'll show what we
    think of this,' and put a dump on it," Ms. Lane said. "I just think
    it's awful."

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