JeffCo Commissioners Discuss Laws to Stop “Poop Trains” From Hauling Waste Into the County

Jefferson County Commissioner Lashundra Scales and Commission President Jimmie Stephens (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

In the race to attract businesses from the North, the Jefferson County Commission made it clear that it would rather not be in the race, and it certainly doesn’t want to win the race.

At least when it comes to “poop trains.”

During its committee meeting Tuesday, commissioners discussed a couple of matters they hope will address a renewed effort by companies in New York and New Jersey to ship solid waste to Jefferson County by rail.

So-called “poop trains” made a literal and figurative stink in 2017 as solid waste was brought into the area by rail. A resolution that was moved to the agenda of Thursday’s commission meeting would establish solid waste officers who would help enforce ordinances put in place concerning illegal littering and, more specifically, the poop trains that are coming into Jefferson County from up north.

County Attorney Theo Lawson said the solid waste officers would be authorized to write citations and enforce all laws related to solid waste. That, he said, would give the county increased ability to write citations, either by county staff or personnel from the Sheriff’s Department.

Staffers from the county’s Land Planning Department already inspect and write citations regarding zoning issues. The resolution would expand their authority.

“We are united to make sure that we improve the quality of life for our citizens,” Commission President Jimmie Stephen said. “We’re standing together as a county commission to make sure that quality of life is improved and not anything detrimental to ever occur to that particular area.”

Commissioners discussed reports of renewed efforts by Big Sky Environmental to resume accepting solid waste hauled into Jefferson County. Stephens said there is a cease-and-desist order that halts that effort while the company goes through the licensing process of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

“As a body, we believe that we need to do everything possible to be able to protect the citizens of Jefferson County,” Commissioner Lashunda Scales said. “This is an effort that all of us have come together because we realize it is a problem. It’s not a new problem, but we needed to address it properly.”

Stephens said there’s a reason that New York and New Jersey trains pass so many states to get to Jefferson County, Alabama. Commissioners will weigh establishing a tax for companies looking to bring in solid waste.

“It’s our intention to understand the reason why and it will allow us to put a tax, a privilege tax on this that will be equitable and be in competition with these other states,” he said. “We want to give the other states an opportunity to bid on and perhaps win this.”

Said Scales: “It’s a competition we’d prefer not to be a part of.”

“It is a competition we would rather lose,” Stephens said. “We want to make sure that we’re in it but we’re not in first or second.”

Sewer Overflows, Zoning

Commissioners moved to Thursday’s agenda a resolution to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows in the Cahaba River Basin by addressing structural deficiencies and improving structural integrity of sanitary sewers near Fargo Drive and Foothills Drive in Hoover.

“What we’ll do here is comprehensive rehabilitation of the sewer system,” said David Denard, the director of Environmental Services. “Basically, we’ll put a pipe within a pipe, secured-in-place epoxy pipe that will go inside the existing pipe and that’ll seal all the cracks and the leaks that let all the extra rainwater and everything else come in the system that causes some of those overflows.

“We’re doing that there and we’re doing it really all over the county,” Denard said. “That is one of our strategies for preventing overflows.”

Commissioners also heard requests for rezoning, including a hearing for property at 1329 Eastern Valley Road in McCalla. The owners want the property rezoned from a split zoning of C-1 commercial and I-2A industrial/salvage to C-1 commercial for a general retail store.

The applicant’s original request was to rezone the property to operate a bingo hall but changed the request at the public hearing of Planning and Zoning. Commissioner Steve Ammons moved to have the matter placed on Thursday’s agenda so the commission can vote on it.

Stephens repeated that the commission is vigilant in blocking bingo.

“I want to assure everyone that there is no provision in unincorporated Jefferson County that any type of bingo is legal,” he said. “The county commission wants to make that perfectly clear, and we’re working hard now through our ordinances, our zoning ordinances and through our revenue department to make sure that we clean up all of those areas that perhaps have slipped through the cracks.”