SOUTH FULTON, Ga. — The state is taking action against the owner of a South Fulton landfill -- which caught fire in 2018 and burned for months -- after local officials said he was found to be in repeated violation of a court order demanding he cleans the site.
Officials with the City of South Fulton announced the filing of the notice of noncompliance against B&B Construction Processing, owned by Tandy Ross Bullock, Monday.
Bullock had been ordered by the Georgia Department of Environmental Protection in September 2022 to begin removing a set amount of waste from the Bishop Road landfill each month and to provide monthly updates showing his compliance with the order. However, the state environmental department said that that isn't happening.
In a February hearing, referenced in the notice of non-compliance, the Georgia EPD said evidence showed that Bullock had not removed any waste from the site in the final months of 2022, beginning in October. He also reportedly provided no documentation for February and March of this year, "and he still has not filed a single status update with the court," according to the notice.
As a result, Bullock now faces a $125,000 fine -- $25,000 for each of the five months of noncompliance.
"Bullock conceded the truth of all of the EPD’s allegations, arguing instead he intended to close the site in place and/or sell the property," according to a copy of the notice provided by the City of South Fulton. However, the state's order mandated Bullock continue to remove waste even if he did plan to close the property or sell it.
Because of his continuing reported noncompliance, the Georgia EPD asked for the court to amend the original order requiring Bullock to put fire prevention and smoke-suppression measures in place to prevent smoke from affecting the neighboring community. It also asked Bullock to extinguish any fires at the site within 24 hours or provide a written explanation of why he could not.
The court said it would consider both the state's requests.
A Feb. 5 letter from Bullock, included as part of the notice of compliance filing, said that "any and all fires that might arise ... are put out immediately." Bullock also claimed to have surveillance photos of intruders on the site, which he said could be the source of the fires. He promised to cooperate with the fire department to put out any future fires on the property.
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Michael Schaepe lives close to the illegal landfill and wants to make sure the air is safe to breathe, especially when his seven-year-old granddaughter comes to visit.
“We’ve been breathing this not for minutes or for hours but for years now," Schaepe said.
The unlicensed landfill caught fire in 2018, and little has changed for residents almost five years later.
“It has that very rancid kind of smell that makes you recoil," Schaepe said.
Schaepe said the fire continues to smolder daily since then, with property values plummeting.
“We had to put special filters on our house, for example, 16 filters and we have to change them every six months, which is expensive to try and remove the VOCs from the air," Schaepe said.
City of South Fulton Councilman Jaceey Sebastian also lives close to the landfill.
“In his [Bullock's] communication back to the court, his latest communication, he’s asking to cover this thing in place, and for our community, that is absolutely unacceptable," Sebastian said.
Sebastian added he's worried about the kids from three nearby schools breathing in the air.
“We don’t know what the pollutants coming out of this landfill are, and so who knows what kind of health effects are going to show up not only in the last five years but in the future," Sebastian said.
A study from the City of South Fulton showed high levels of volatile particles near the illegal landfill.
“I still have hope that this will be cleaned up. I have to," Schaepe said.
Councilman Sebastian would like to federal government to look into this.
11Alive reached out to the landfill owner, but so far, he hasn’t returned our calls for comment.
The site has been a source of friction in the community for more than a decade. Officials said the site was initially a recycling facility but evolved into an unpermitted solid waste handling operation. Fulton County officials have been fighting with Bullock over the landfill since 2007, according to previous reporting by the Associated Press.
The landfill first caught fire in 2018. No one was hurt, but the fire was so large that combustibles caused it to smolder for days, officials said. The Associated Press reported the fire continued burning underground for months. South Fulton officials said residents have reported additional flareups in more recent years.
Neighbors living near the landfill complained about the Bishop Road site raising health concerns about the smoke caused by the fires, and concerned residents even wrote a letter to the governor in 2019 asking why the area was rezoned as an industrial area when it was previously classified as a residential zone.
Months after the 2018 fire started, state officials opened an investigation into the landfill to bring the facility into compliance with state rules, after the owner was "uncooperative." Bullock was even arrested on charges of illegal burning -- his third arrest in the ongoing saga -- in February 2019.