Friday, July 14, 2017

Weekly publisher wins fight against coal-ash landfill

Publisher/landowner Dink NeSmith in the Altamaha River. (NNA photo by Fred Bennett)
A community crusade led by a weekly newspaper "fought off the efforts of a Fortune 500 solid waste giant that proposed to dump millions of tons of coal ash in a local landfill," Teri Saylor reports for the National Newspaper Association.

The story of the Jesup Press-Sentinel and publisher Dink NeSmith, who owns several other papers and 4,000 acres along the Altamaha River, two-thirds of it in conservation easements, was most recently told by Dan Chapman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a former reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“When I first heard mention of coal ash in Wayne County I said, ‘Whoa. Then no. Then hell no. We don’t want that in our river’,” NeSmith told Chapman. “We threw our heart into the fight and our wallets followed. I have never seen the community more riled up.”

"NeSmith bankrolled much of the coal ash fight and wrote scores of scathing editorials in opposition. The company killed the project earlier this year," Chapman reports. His story is one of five in a series, with seven videos, on the Altamaha (pronounced al-ta-ma-HA).

Republic Services "had won enough battles to consider a small town like Jesup would be a pushover. But Republic had never tangled with newspaper owner, Dink NeSmith, and the power of a feisty small-town newspaper," Saylor writes. He got former president Jimmy Carter to write Microsoft's Bill Gates, "who owns millions of shares of Republic stock. . . . Gates wrote back two months later with promises to ask Republic Services to look into it." That was in August 2016; in April 2017, Republic dropped its plans. NeSmith, who had said his battle was one of David vs. Goliath, also corresponded with farmer-environmentalist-author Wendell Berry, who wrote him a congratulatory note with a P.S.: "David won."

Saylor provides background: "Jesup, the seat of Wayne County, is home to 12,000 residents, and located about 40 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean in southeast Georgia. Wayne County’s landmass is mostly swampy coastal plain and piney forestland. The Altamaha River flows along the northern border of Wayne County . . . It is an ecologically sensitive area, inhabited by at least 120 species of rare or endangered plants and animals, reporter Derby Waters wrote in an email." NeSmith calls the river "the Amazon of the South."

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