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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Question marks, and no period, for Orange County's waste transfer station

Posted by on Wed, Apr 22, 2009 at 5:38 PM

Despite a plea from Commissioner Mike Nelson to "put the period at the end of the sentence" and move forward with a proposed waste-transfer station in southwestern Orange County, the Board of County Commissioners delayed a final vote on the facility at last night's regular meeting in Chapel Hill.

Instead, commissioners moved to contract with a legal firm for the project, await a final decision by the State Clearinghouse regarding a number of environmental issues with the proposed property and, if necessary, require that county staff develop an Environmental Impact Statement. The commissioners also voted to:

-Rule out the possibility of siting a temporary transfer station at the Eubanks Road landfill;

-Conduct a work session with members of the Solid Waste Advisory Board and representatives from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough; and

-Consult with local fire departments about the potential risks of having a transfer station on a site with no water/sewer access, or a readily available septic system (the conditions of the county's preferred site).

The commissioners may have an additional year to make up their minds. Solid Waste Management Director Gayle Wilson announced that a recent study of the Eubanks Road landfill revealed "an additional year of landfill capacity," due to the University of North Carolina no longer using the landfill, and improvements including a landfill compactor and a ban on curbside cardboard pickup. Originally, the site was scheduled to shut down its municipal solid-waste operation in mid-2011, requiring the county to transfer its waste to another landfill.

Commissioner Pam Hemminger, who told Nelson, "I disagree with you completely," cautioned against making a quick decision for the sake of expediency.

Citing a project budget "all over the map," and a staff report (PDF, 800 KB) that recommends several final-minute changes, including a presumably forcible purchase of just 25 acres--instead of the original, 143-acre site offered for sale by its owner-- Hemminger said, "We are in charge of taxpayer money. I understand the dilemmas and hardships, but I don't think we have fully examined this."

Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier concurred, saying, "I have way too many questions.”

One question includes the presence of wetlands on the proposed site, which Charlotte-based consultants Olver, Inc. did not include in their original environmental assessment for the county. A recent wetlands survey presented to commissioners in advance of last night's meeting shows that a significant portion of the 143-acre tract contains wetlands--including a total of three wetland areas and two streams within the 25-acre area recommended for purchase. In an interview, Wilson said the county was in the process of submitting the new survey, which was subcontracted by Olver, to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If the Corps determines that the wetlands are jurisdictional, and not just site-specific, then an Environmental Impact Statement--and application for state and federal permits to disturb the wetlands--will be required.

After receiving the new information, a few commissioners seemed willing to consider the possibility of dropping the N.C. 54 site altogether, if more damaging information surfaced.

“Because there are no other candidate sites, we will go out of our way to make this work," said Commissioner Steve Yuhasz. "But it is possible that, at the end, we’ll have to re-start the process and find another candidate site.”

Meanwhile, Al Vickers, a member of the Solid Waste Advisory Board, broke rank with the citizen-led group's recommendation to "move forward deliberately" with the construction of a transfer station. Speaking as a "taxpayer," Vickers told commissioners that the N.C. 54 site "makes no sense."

“Unfortunately, the location on 54 is, geographically, just in the wrong place. You need to be closer to the center of waste production. And that’s not as a member of the SWAB, that’s as a taxpayer. I pay taxes in this community, and I think it’s important that you realize that.”

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