Appeals court reverses shutdown of Stonecrest recycling plant
July 18, 2023
The concrete-crushing facility has been subject of years of protests and legal battles
A Georgia appeals court panel recently sided with a recycling plant and state regulators by reversing a local judge’s decision to revoke the factory’s ability to crush concrete near residential neighborhoods in south DeKalb County.
The panel of three judges ruled July 13 that Metro Green Recycling properly obtained its solid waste handling permit from the state Environmental Protection Division and shouldn’t be barred from doing business.
The factory, which occupies a 50-acre site within the city of Stonecrest, has sat dormant since last summer when DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Tangela Barrie ruled the company took advantage of city leaders to obtain its permit by circumventing the county and misleading the EPD. The appeals court disagreed, ruling that the EPD has the final say on issuing permits and the city didn’t follow the proper channels to revoke its support, rushing into court prematurely.
For roughly five years, the factory has been the center of lawsuits, protests and accusations of environmental racism because the plant was built near residential neighborhoods in a city that is more than 93% Black.
Richard Robbins, an attorney representing Metro Green, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution his client feels vindicated by the decision and hopes to reopen the factory in the coming weeks.
“It’s very important to have this kind of business to handle construction and demolition waste as well as to recycle concrete so it can be used again rather than just put in a landfill,” Robbins said.
Barrie’s ruling ended the case before it proceeded to a trial by using summary judgment, so Robbins said the case will go back to a trial court and will have to be dismissed before Metro Green can resume operations.
Stonecrest Mayor Jazzmin Cobble said the city is reviewing the decision and will evaluate options to appeal.
“We are satisfied that the city’s legal position is correct and remain confident that we will ultimately prevail in this fight for the safety and security of our community,” she said.
Opponents to the factory, which include activist group Citizens for a Healthy and Safe Environment (CHASE), also said they are evaluating their legal options, arguing that the appeals court “ruled against local residents on narrow procedural issues.”
“We are disappointed in the decision but remain committed to protecting our neighbors and families living in Metro Green’s shadow, and to fighting the unjust pattern and disproportionate impacts of polluting industries in and around communities of color,” Renee Cail, President of CHASE, said in an emailed statement.
The recycling plant, located near Snapfinger Woods Drive and Miller Road, was among the first major projects to gain traction in Stonecrest, which was founded in 2017. DeKalb officials initially denied Metro Green’s project, but the company was able to get then-Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary to back the project.
In May 2018, Lary wrote a letter to the EPD endorsing the project. Michael Harris, Stonecrest’s city manager at the time, wrote a subsequent letter saying that Metro Green’s plans complied with the city’s zoning laws and the county’s solid waste plan, which DeKalb leaders contest.
By October 2019, the EPD issued Metro Green a solid waste handling permit, allowing it to take in unsorted construction debris for processing and recycling. Activists and residents said the activity kicks up dust and creates noise, which is unbearable for residents who live next to the plant. Metro Green’s legal team denies that its factory is a burden to neighbors.
Amid the controversy, Lary revoked his support of the project, and in August 2020, Stonecrest filed a temporary restraining order against Metro Green to try to stop construction. Lary would later resign in disgrace after being caught stealing pandemic relief funds.
The legal action would grow into a lawsuit where Stonecrest, DeKalb County and CHASE were each suing Metro Green and the EPD.
The EPD’s attorneys argued that the letter from Stonecrest endorsing the project fulfilled the state agency’s oversight requirements when it initially issued Metro Green’s permit. The appeals court panel agreed, ruling that Stonecrest did not contest the permit with the EPD and instead went to the courts.
“Although Stonecrest now asserts that the statements in its compliance letter were incorrect, the fact remains that the letter was provided by Stonecrest and submitted to EPD,” Appeals Court Chief Judge Amanda Mercier wrote in the panel’s opinion.
April Lipscomb, an attorney representing CHASE, said the EPD ignored community pleas to review the permit once Stonecrest revoked its support of Metro Green’s project.
“As an agency tasked with acting in the public’s interest, EPD should not be able to look the other way while a disruptive, polluting solid waste facility harms south DeKalb families,” she said in a statement.
CHASE and Stonecrest have the option to appeal the case to the Georgia Supreme Court, but Robbins said he’s confident Metro Green will prevail if that takes place.
“We don’t think the Supreme Court would hear the case if they choose to do that, but in our view they would be operating at their own risk if they continued to keep us from doing business,” Robbins said.