Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- In October 1982, Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center opened in all its glory; Sony launched the world's first consumer CD player; the Cardinals beat the Brewers in Game 7 of the World Series, and Dougherty County Commission Chairman Gil Barrett was quite possibly the most hated man in all of eastern Dougherty County.

It had been earlier that summer that Barrett, critics said, had pushed through a clandestine plot to put a planned sanitary landfill on a plot of land on Fleming Road that would inevitably "poison" the Ocala Aquifer and shutter Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany.

Nearly 30 years later, the Dougherty County Landfill sits on the verge of a first-of-its-kind partnership between the military and local government that will pipe methane -- a byproduct gas of the decomposition process -- to MCLB-Albany for conversion into a greener form of energy.

Under the agreement, the county and MCLB-Albany will partner for the next 20 years, with an option to extend for five additional years, for the gas, which will be used to operate a 1.9 megawatt combined heat and power generator at the base.

Chevron Energy Solutions developed and designed the project and will maintain the facility, pipeline and equipment, a MCLB-Albany news release stated.

That partnership was largely contingent on the proximity of the landfill and the base, and is happening in large part because the County Commission chose the Fleming Road site in the early 1980s as the place to develop the landfill.

It's that proximity that will allow MCLB-Albany and the U.S. Navy to pipe in the methane that the county is currently is burning as a waste product and transform it into energy.

While the benefits of that partnership could be far-reaching, the first and most immediate benefit, according to both economic development and military officials, is that it puts the base on better footing for when the Base Closure and Realignment Commission comes calling again and could help keep MCLB-Albany off closure lists.

On Thursday, assorted military, local government and energy officials will participate in a groundbreaking at the landfill for the project, which will include Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment.

The process could also turn into a revenue generator for the county, Landfill Director and Assistant County Administrator Mike McCoy has said, if the county is allowed to join the Chicago Climate Exchange, which is the first U.S. emissions trading market developed under Cap-and-Trade legislation.

The concept of the market is that since the government caps the amount of greenhouse gases a company or entity can emit, any entity that crosses that threshold would have to buy carbon credits from the open market to compensate. Since Dougherty County would be on that market, it could feasibly sell its excess carbon credits from the methane project to another entity.

"Carbon is a commodity and, like a commodity, it can be bought and sold," County Administrator Richard Crowdis told the commission's Finance Committee last week. "There are some real opportunities here moving forward."

But while Dougherty County may reap future benefits off the project, it was almost derailed in the early 1980s by a group of concerned residents who feared that a Fleming Road landfill would force the base to close and could contaminate the aquifer used for groundwater in Southwest Georgia.

In October 1981, Dr. Carl Gordon, the president of the East Dougherty Voters League, joined with a group of 12-15 various labor unions and even military officials in voicing intense criticism against the County Commission's 5-2 vote for the Fleming Road landfill site.

While Gordon and the league, whose attorney was civil rights icon C.B. King, had been attacking Barrett and the commission for four years as they went through the site selection process, in October 1981 the group officially mounted a recall effort designed to put Barrett and Commissioner Karl Hall out of office.

"No way is Gil Barrett going to break and run," Barrett told an Albany Herald reporter in an article published Sept. 17, 1981. "They don't frighten me. They don't concern me."

Gordon fired back, saying that when letters to the editor in support of Barrett and the commission started appearing in The Herald calling him the "laughing stock" of the county, that he anticipated as much from Barrett and his supporters.

"I know some of Mr. Barrett's men will take pot shots at me, but that doesn't bother me at all," Gordon told a reporter in an interview published Oct. 13, 1981.

The dispute between Gordon and Barrett continued to unfold in the pages of The Herald throughout the summer and into the fall.

Gordon, who argued that military officials did not want a landfill adjacent to their facility, read a letter during "Solidarity Day" -- a day when unionists and the league marched in downtown in opposition of the landfill site -- from then-Marine Corps Logistics Command Commanding Gen. L.L. Sullivan indicating that future decisions at the base would most likely be affected by a landfill on the site.

Barrett, and those on the commission who supported the decision, were unmoved by Sullivan's letter, saying, "Let him write what he wants to," according to an article in the Oct. 13, 1981 edition of The Herald.

Even the commission was divided on the issue.

In August 1981, Commissioner David Gambrell -- who opposed the site -- crossed Barrett and flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with senior Marine Corps officials, namely Lt. Gen. Harold A. Hatch, who was the chief of staff for installations and logistics for the U.S. Marine Corps.

On the junket paid for by the members of the league, Gambrell's talk with Hatch happened one day before Barrett was set to meet with Hatch in Washington to promote the site.

But despite the venomous political rancor from both the league and some on the commission, Barrett and the other commissioners refused to reconsider the site and moved forward with its development.

Nearly 30 years later the Dougherty County Landfill is making headlines again, but this time in a much more favorable light.

"This is something that is almost unfathomable for folks," current Dougherty Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard said. "This is a partnership that will benefit the people of Dougherty County. It's a partnership that will benefit the military and it's something that is will put Dougherty County on the cutting edge of the green energy movement."