Journalist who fought coal ash dump in Jesup wins Greenlaw’s Environmental Championship Award
By David Pendered
Journalist Dink NeSmith and The Press-Sentinel, of Jesup, will receive Greenlaw’s Special Media Recognition for Environmental Championship Award for their efforts to expose plans for a coal ash dump in Wayne County. The dump’s operator withdrew its 2015 application in April.
“The Press-Sentinel played the pivotal role in defeating Republic Services’ plans to take out-of-state coal ash at their Broadhurst Landfill in Wayne County,” David Paule, GreenLaw’s executive director, said in a statement.
“In other parts of Georgia, a relatively poor and out-of-the-way community like Wayne County would be hard pressed to fight big corporate interests,” Paule said. “Fortunately, Jesup has The Press-Sentinel to lead the fight. And fortunately for The Press-Sentinel, they have a leader like its chairman, Dink NeSmith, to support them in that battle.”
NeSmith is co-owner and president of Athens-based Community Newspapers, Inc., which publishes more than two dozen newspapers in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.
The twice-a-week, 6,000-circulation Press-Sentinel published more than 75 stories about the coal ash project in the course of a year, according to Greenlaw. Coverage include three ad-free special sections about the nature of coal ash, plus more than a dozen editorials and 70 editorial cartoons. NeSmith himself wrote 62 personal columns and hired lawyers to fight the proposal to expand a landfill in order to accept out-of-state coal ash.
“We believe strong newspapers help to build strong communities,” NeSmith said Thursday in an email. “That’s why we pump ink and iron in each edition. Whatever success we achieved is because many people rallied to protect our community’s environment. President Jimmy Carter was a significant help.
“Dumping toxic coal ash in wetlands, on top of the Floridan Aquifer, and in our coastal watershed was just too much risk,” NeSmith said. “We had no choice but to take a stand. We threw our heart into the battle, and our wallet followed. It’s very important to note Republic Services Inc.’s eventual willingness to listen and respond in a more cooperative way. We are grateful for the outcome.”
Greenlaw will present the award Oct. 5 at the non-profit organization’s annual Environmental Heroes Celebration. Greenlaw also is to honor two other environmental advocates at the event.
Former Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Jaqueline Echols, board president of the South River Watershed Alliance will receive an Environmental Achievement Award.
“This year’s honorees have helped Georgia’s environment by promoting clean water, fighting coal ash and the protecting beauty of Georgia,” Paule said. “The Environmental Heroes Celebration celebrates their work, and highlights its importance.”
Howard left public office in 1994 and returned to the practice of law. In 2009, Howard joined the Georgia Conservancy as president and CEO. Greenlaw’s statement says Howard founded the Land Conservation Initiative, which uses conservation easements and tax benefits to encourage landowners to preserve portions of their property.
“I think you would be hard-pressed to find a leader who has done more for Georgia’s environment that Pierre Howard,” Paule said. “When Pierre and the Conservancy introduced its Land Conservation Initiative in 2007 to help private landowners conserve ecologically important areas around the state, there was no existing conservation program aimed at helping them. By the time he left the Conservancy, 15,700 acres of diverse habitat had been conserved.”
Howard now works at an environmental consulting firm, Green Day Conservation Service.
Previously, Georgia Conservancy honored Howard with its Distinguished Conservationist Award. This year, the award is going to Gov. Nathan Deal.
Echols has served as board president of the South River Watershed Alliance since it was founded, in 2000. Under her leadership, the SRWA was the sole intervener in the consent decree between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DeKalb County.
In 2013, DeKalb agreed to make major improvements to its sanitary sewer system to eliminate unauthorized overflows of untreated sewage. The SRWA helped with the implementation and oversight of the consent decree, according to Greenlaw.
“Jackie Echols’ work on behalf of the citizens of this state, most particularly those living in DeKalb County and along the South River has been tireless,” Paule said. “For example, FOG (fats, oils, and grease) is the main cause of sanitary sewer spills in DeKalb County. These spills have huge negative impacts on the county’s streams and rivers. They also cost ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in sewer pipe repairs and environmental cleanup costs. She is pressing the County Commission for tougher ordinances to address the issue. Jackie has been more than an advocate for the South River. She is a keen strategist who fights to ensure that government enforces its own laws.”