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Trash talk ain't cheap 

Already with the trash talking. The N.C. House got rolling last week on its version of the budget, and right out of the box there was disagreement over a key provision in the Senate budget calling for a statewide moratorium on new landfills. The provision is aimed directly at five private mega-landfills, most of which are proposed in coastal lands. At least two firms are applying for permits in swamps.

Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight came out strong for a "cooling-off period" while the state sorts out whether it wants to become a leading importer of out-of-state municipal waste.

But late last week Rep. William Owens, a powerful, pro-businesses co-chair of the House Appropriations Committee, told the Daily Advance in Elizabeth City he wasn't so sure. While it may vote on the idea separately, the House budget, he declared flatly, will not contain a moratorium provision.

Both Owens and Basnight represent Camden County, where the operators of the proposed Black Bear dump would truck in waste from 20 states to a site that sits in an area drained for farmland in the historic Dismal Swamp. Camden's county manager has said he sees the dump as the solution to the county's financial woes--the same pitch residents in other rural counties are hearing from landfill operators.

With Pennsylvania, the country's leading importer of trash, getting out of the business, waste haulers are desperate for another dumping ground. Camden is just over the line from Virginia, the state that's No. 2 on the importer list.

So how big are these mega-landfills? Well, according to the N.C. Conservation Network, if the five known proposals are approved this state will go from being a modest exporter of trash to the nation's No. 4 importer.

There's big money behind the push for N.C. landfill sites, some of which--naturally--is earmarked for legislative campaigns. On April 14, for instance, Waste Management's Good Government PAC got a round of $500 and $1,000 checks out to 30 legislators. The $26,000, handed out mostly to folks in leadership positions, was a pittance compared to the $300,000 or so the PAC reports having at the ready.

Both Owens and Basnight, by the way, got $1,000 that day. Win some, lose some.

BUS FARE

I got to thinking about Sen. James Forrester's election-year proposal to spend $30,000 of taxpayers' money and dozens of hours of top officials' time studying the feasibility and cost of using state school and prison buses to transport "Mexican nationals found within the state of North Carolina who are not lawfully present in the United States back to Mexico." Aside from the whole idea of rounding up, oh, roughly 350,000 people who are living and working here, I got to thinking that any idiot with a calculator--myself included--could save the state 30 large on that one.

So, after a search for the average gas mileage of a modern, well-maintained school bus (about 8 mpg) and figuring the distance (2,500 miles), the price of diesel ($2.75/gal) and the capacity of a bus (say 35 or so), I got to around $850 in fuel each way per bus. Now multiply that times 10,000 trips and it comes to $8.5 million to get 'em there and $8.5 million to drive a bunch of empty buses back. Brilliant.

BY ANY OTHER NAME

This state's environmentalists rarely shy away from a fight, especially when it comes to the coast. But no one is relishing the idea of speaking against something with the name Hugh Morton attached to it. A bill called the Hugh Morton Save the Coast Pilot/Fund, however, may precipitate such a fight. The legislation, introduced by Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jones, Onslow) has some really nice tributes to Morton, who died last week at age 85. But its primary purpose, coastal environmentalists say, is to build an underwater groin at North Topsail Beach.

A similar plan was looked at more than a decade ago when Morton was helping lead efforts to save the Hatteras lighthouse. But in 1998, an eight-member science panel appointed by the Coastal Review Commission to study the technology unanimously advised against it.

It will be fitting for the legislature to honor Morton in all kinds of ways, but maybe leave this one off the list.

Contact Kirk Ross at kross@indyweek.com.

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