Sunday, June 18, 2006

Greene County ramble

I'd never been to Greene County, even though I'd spent a good bit of time a few years ago on two appellate briefs that helped folks there keep a regional landfill at bay. I've kept up with Frank Warren of Snow Hill ever since, and finally it seemed time for a visit.

Paul and I went down yesterday. It was a good time, because we got to attend a quarterly regional meeting of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. The meeting was held in the Greene County Community Center, where the walls are lined with photos of graduating classes of the all-black South Greene High School through 1969.

At least those pictures are still around, said Gary Grant, meeting facilitator. He remembered when his black high school was turned into a different facility in an integrated system, all of the class photos, trophies, everything was hauled into the dumpster. (I can't think of an example where the black high school became the system's high school. Did it ever happen?)

Greene County people recalled what it took to win their battle against the landfill that their county commissioners were determined to bring in. It was what you might expect: patience and persistence. Having the law on their side helped. But ultimately this kind of decision is political. The real change happened when constituents managed to change the mind of just one commissioner. The tide could turn again, though.

We next heard from the Citizens for a Safe and Vibrant Community on their May 16 rally in Sandyfield, Columbus County, in opposition to a landfill proposed to go in between Sandyfield and East Arcadia, two African American communities. Some 250 strong, the protesters had planned to attend the Sandyfield Town Council meeting after the event. But they found a sign at Town Council saying "Closed until further notice."

As I've noted before, landfills are a growth industry in North Carolina. There is some hope of a moratorium out of the current legislative session. Nicole Stewart of the N.C. Conservation Network gave a workshop on how to communicate with local and state officials. Now is the time.

After the meeting, Frank Warren humored us by driving us around the town and county. There's an unusual brick Rosenwald School just down from the Community Center where we were; then the central Snow Hill residential district, which like the school is on the National Register, as is the nearby St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. We rambled out to where the regional landfill is not located (at least not yet) and beyond, even to Maury to see the new maximum-security prison, the county's third, sited under questionable circumstances.

Greene County like all of eastern North Carolina has become a dumping ground (I haven't even mentioned the hog farms). What's it going to take to turn things around?

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