Curtis addresses City Council about REEF
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – Clara Curtis, president of the environmental nonprofit group Preserve Our Environment for Tomorrow, addressed the City Council about REEF at its meeting Wednesday morning.

Speaking on behalf of the citizens of South Talladega County, Curtis said everyone is delighted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now overseeing cleanup efforts at the former waste treatment facility. However, Curtis questioned the city’s involvement in bringing REEF to Sylacauga and its lack of results from a nuisance lawsuit the city filed against the company in 2009.

For this reason, Curtis said the citizenry is requesting an investigation by the Talladega County District Attorney’s Office into the disregard of hundreds of citizen complaints about the “toxic fumes” coming from REEF, which is just outside city limits, and the lack of oversight by government agencies.

“Over the course of four very long years, these complaints were repeatedly and duly communicated to the mayor and City Council of Sylacauga and the Talladega County Commission,” Curtis said. “We believe their subsequent use of the court system was a tactical means of stalling in order to evade our legitimate nuisance claims against the facility of these fumes.”

Chief Deputy District Attorney Christina Kilgore said Wednesday afternoon that they are unaware of any formal complaints filed regarding REEF.

Curtis has also communicated three citizen demands with EPA as follows: an investigation by the governor and attorney general into the lack of oversight by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, a facility for health assessment of the damage caused by REEF and a 24/7 EPA representative on site to advise citizens during the cleanup process.

EPA said it will have an office onsite and be available during cleanup, which is expected to take about three months. In addition, the Alabama Department of Public Health has been notified of the situation.

City attorney Win Livingston said the city’s lawsuit against REEF, which asked the company to cease operations that caused the noxious odor, has not been dismissed, but essentially died when REEF filed for bankruptcy in 2011. The suit is still in place in the event that REEF recovers from bankruptcy, Livingston said. ADEM also has pending litigation against REEF for multiple air and water violations.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, councilmen shared their departing thoughts, as it was their last meeting before an all-new council is installed Nov. 5.

Mayor-elect Doug Murphree said he has enjoyed working with the council and has always respected others’ opinions and votes. He also thanked Mayor Jim Heigl for “stepping up during a difficult time.”

Heigl said has given his best during his term as council president and then as mayor since the death of Mayor Sam Wright in August.

“It has been my pleasure to serve my city,” he said. “I didn’t ask for this position, but I had to take it under the circumstances, and I hope I have done well with it. I congratulate the next council coming in, and I ask that you stand up, be your own man and do what’s best for our city.”

Councilman Manuell Smith thanked God, his district, his church and his fellow councilmen for allowing him to serve. He said the city has grown in the last four years, and morale is high. Councilman Walter Jacobson was not present.

Councilman Ken Horn left on a high note, saying it was “my pleasure to serve you for the past eight years, but am I sad to go? Hell no.”

In other business, the council:

• Approved a resolution allowing an existing structure to remain in the right-of-way on West Third Street.

• Removed three items on the agenda pertaining to the relocation of the downtown railway switch pending additional legal information from Rail America.

• Failed to approve an application for a Class II club liquor license for Harvey’s on Noble with Horn and Murphree voting in favor and Smith abstaining. The application did not require action at this meeting, but the owner requested the waiting period be waived. Murphree said Harvey’s still has a liquor license, just not this particular type.

• Approved a request from William Ferreira of Liquid Airbrush to set up a temporary business at Advance Auto Parts for about a week during December.

• Approved a request from Blue Bell Creameries for a special events permit to host “Diggin’ it with the Dogs,” a one-day fundraiser to benefit the Animal Rescue Foundation from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Nov. 3.

• Approved a request from St. Thomas United Methodist Church for permission to block East Milton Street and Church Avenue for a block party Oct. 27.

• Authorized refunds of $25 to Darsan Rogers, $5 to Gassaway Stone and $15 to Carl Whitt for overpayments of municipal court fines.

• Approved meal expenses for firefighters Chris Wallis, Jarrod Cunningham and Sam Ogilive to attend a “Rescue Technician: Confined Space” course in Alex City Oct. 29-Nov. 2, and for police Sgts. Mike Moore, Renea Cummings, Ryan Gaither and officer James Wimmer to attend a “First Line Supervisor” course in Montgomery Oct. 29-Nov. 2.

• Authorized September and October accounts payable payments totaling $180,225.19, approved all checks and transfers and financial statements for September. The city ended its fiscal year with revenues of $13,735,715 and expenditures of $13,282,800, resulting in an unaudited surplus in the amount of $452,915.

• Heard from I Can Achieve member Willie Brown, who asked for an update from the council on the group’s request to occupy East Highland School. The council told him to refer to the incoming council.

• Heard from Councilman-elect Rocky Lucas, who defended the incoming council against statements Curtis made about its orientation meeting during the EPA community meeting Tuesday night. Lucas said councilmen-elect discussed REEF and eight other pertinent city issues at the meeting, in addition to learning protocol and meeting procedures. The new council was be inaugurated at 10 a.m. on Nov. 5 at City Hall.

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© 2012