Could it happen here?
From the Anniston Star
In our opinion
09-08-2007

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Down in south Alabama, near the town of Atmore, a mini-drama is being played out that should be watched by rural residents throughout the state.

Escambia County is in the heart of the pine belt. Timber has been its livelihood as long as there have been people there. And like so many similar counties, Escambia is pockmarked with clusters of houses that residents consider to be communities but in a legal sense are little more than neighborhoods.

Freemanville is one of these.

Once a rural crossroads village, over the years people have moved in; today there are a hundred or so houses, some in the $150,000 to $300,000 price range. There also are churches and other symbols of community. And, if a Georgia-based company has its way, soon there will be a chemical plant right in the middle of it all.

Escambia County and Atmore, like most counties and municipalities, have industrial parks for industries such as this, but what was offered did not meet the company's needs. So C&S Chemical Inc. looked elsewhere and found 20 acres of land along the Alabama Gulf Coast Railroad in Freemanville. There C&S Chemical plans to build a factory that will manufacture aluminium sulfate, a compound with a variety of industrial uses but which is also identified as a hazardous material in chemical directories.

The people of Freemanville are not happy.

Although the company has not indicated what the economic impact of its operation might be or how many workers it will employ, local folks are concerned that trucks going in and out will disrupt their community and fear that what the plant makes will endanger their health and their lives.

But there is not anything they can do about it.

Freemanville is not an incorporated town. Thus, it has no zoning laws to regulate what is and is not built in the community's residential areas.

Public pressure may force C&S Chemical to reconsider. Just about everyone from the folks next door to state senators and representatives have voiced their opposition. Even the Escambia County Commissioners have said they don't like it.

While the various sides are trying to resolve the matter, we need to consider this: In our rush to recruit industries to Alabama, we need to get our rules and regulations in order. There are many counties in our region where this same sort of thing could happen.

Alabama is woefully lacking in rural zoning laws. Why? Because our state Constitution makes it difficult for counties to govern themselves, and because of local opposition to the government telling property owners what they can and cannot do with their land.

What is happening in Escambia County should be a wakeup call to us all.

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