To hear Monica
McAfee tell it, it was one of the more disgusting sights she’d ever come
Walking her dogs the evening of Friday, May 8, McAfee approached
the small creek running through Perkerson Park in the Capitol View neighborhood
south of Downtown. Instead of a burbling, clear-running stream, she found a
sickly, neon green-coated waterway from one end of the park to the other.
“It was like something out of a horror show,” says McAfee, a civic
activist who heads the neighborhood association in nearby Sylvan Hills.
Suspecting pollution, she called 911. An Atlanta Fire Department hazmat team
arrived, members of which subsequently called a state Environmental Protection
What happened next is puzzling.
Jackson, a manager and inspector with the EPD, responded that night
but did not test the water because “the creek was running clear.” However, the
visit didn’t come until after 9 p.m., hours after the original report was
submitted by the fire department and under pitch-black conditions.
meantime, McAfee’s husband had scooped up a sample. Tested by a private
lab, it came back showing traces of antifreeze.
residents say several junkyards operate in the area, they train their primary
ire on Perkins Auto Recycling, upstream of the park on Higgins Street, which
they say has a long history of pollution and code enforcement violations with
state and city officials. They accuse the business of illegal dumping, burning
cars and performing auto recycling tasks outside an enclosed building (a
violation of a city ordinance).
The EPD has confirmed that Perkins Auto
was fined $25,000 in 2005 for unpermitted storm water discharges. Perkins was
allowed to set up a payment plan of 50 monthly payments of $500 each. To date,
Perkins has made only 17 payments, totaling $8,500. EPD officials say they have
filed a request with the state Attorney General’s Office to have Fulton County
Superior Court pursue contempt charges against Perkins.
A document dated
Jan. 7, 2007, shows the EPD citing Perkins again for “a significant amount of
oil and possibly other automotive fluids on the ground in the vicinity of the
main processing area” of the property and, again, cited the apparent lack of a
storm water permit. Still another case going back to 2003 involving oil in a
storm water drain netted Perkins another fine.
Bearing that history in
mind, couldn’t there have been pollutants not visibly apparent on May 8 of this
year that sampling might have turned up? And didn’t the prior violations argue
for some sort of action on Jackson’s part beyond a look at the
“That would be pure speculation on your part,” Jackson responds.
He says he is doing a follow-up investigation on the source of the reported
pollution, but has not talked to Perkins or other junkyard operators in the area
to this point, and rejects the idea of performing a random sampling of the creek
to trace the source of the problem, saying “I’m not sure what value it would
For members of the Capitol View Neighborhood Association, it’s but
the latest chapter in a series of battles with Perkins, and, to some lesser
degree, with other junkyard operators in the impoverished area. Among the
weapons in their arsenal: a YouTube video showing fluids being poured on the
ground and Perkins employees burning cars.
“They just won’t abide by the
laws and ordinances put in place to stop this,” says one neighborhood activist
who fears direct identification and potential retaliation. “They have a long
history and now code enforcement won’t even come down here. Code enforcement has
cited them in the past, and always let them off. And the condition of the
property is pretty much the same.”
The activist is particularly
concerned about a chain of events going back to 2007: After months of wrangling,
the City of Atlanta’s business license review board heard testimony about
conditions at Perkins and voted to deny a secondary metals recycling license to
the company. Mayor Shirley Franklin reversed the decision and approved the
“The mayor reviewed the testimony and the evidence and made the
decision to approve the license,” Franklin’s chief of staff, Greg Pridgeon,
writes in an e-mail to The Sunday Paper. “Three members of the License Review
Board (LRB) voted to recommend denial of the license, one member voted to
recommend approval and one member abstained. Under LRB procedures, the mayor is
not required to follow the recommendations of the LRB.”
the city’s law department recommended Franklin approve it.
decision left neighborhood residents stunned and convinced that Perkins must
have powerful friends in the halls of government.
“It’s disgusting that
we have to live in filth like this when what they are doing is potentially
contaminating our area,” says Kim Garcia, president of the Capitol
View Homeowners group. Garcia says she has tried repeatedly to get code
enforcement officials to update area residents about the situation, and code
enforcement in general, at neighborhood meetings, but no one has ever shown up.
She says the Perkins business has been cited by code enforcement in the past,
but has always been let off the hook.
Calls to Michael Renshaw,
head of the city’s Bureau of Code Compliance, were not returned,
but a check of the code compliance Web site shows several violations dating back
to 2003, including housing code violations and “junk, trash and debris,” with
notices showing all cases subsequently resolved.
Despite what residents
describe as “numerous calls” to the bureau on the matter, city records reflect
no activity in the Perkins file since 2006. Neighbors say a check of the
property last week revealed junk and trash and fluid-leaking transmissions and
auto parts strewn about. A visit from The Sunday Paper’s news editor on May 20
revealed the same problems, with oily fluids gleaming in plain view on the
Ironically, the Capitol View activist who prefers not to be named
says she recently got an e-mail from the city announcing a new program called
“Operation High Five,” under which homeowner groups are being asked to submit
the names of the five worst code violations in their area. The city would then
presumably bring its legal machinery to bear against the violators.
submitted Perkins along with a detailed description of what they were doing and
a list of ordinances I thought they were violating to make it easier for them,”
the activist says. “That was last month, and to my knowledge they [city
inspectors] have not been around.”
To be fair, she says, other junkyards
in the area have been cited for such things as leaking underground storage
Concerned residents label their fight with Perkins a case of
environmental injustice, asserting that such a long-festering problem would
never be tolerated in Buckhead, Midtown or other neighborhoods with greater
clout and better access to high-dollar lawyers.
As for operator Claude
Perkins, he hung up on a Sunday Paper reporter after saying “I’m not
interested,” in commenting, but he did tell a WSB Channel 2 reporter in a recent
brief interview, “I am an environmentalist … this is ludicrous,” when
asked about the charges.
Garcia says neighborhood residents are again
stirring the pot because “it’s an election year and it’s the only time I feel
like people can come out and look at this and make a difference. The EPD knows
about it, the Health Department has been made aware, the police know about it.
And every time we think something’s going to happen, people look the other
One neighborhood over, McAfee is very concerned about taking her
dogs around the Perkerson Park creek in the future. But she’s more concerned
about “children who play there all summer long. You can’t keep them out of the
water, and it’s just a matter of time before someone gets sick. We don’t want
some small child to ingest this stuff and get sick or worse, and then we all
look at each other and say ‘how did this happen?’”