Alternatives to reopening landfill floated

by Jordan Green

Residents of northeast Greensboro showed up in city council chambers in force on June 2 to express adamant opposition to the idea of reopening the White Street Landfill to solid waste, in response to a request by District 4 Councilman Mike Barber for the estimated cost savings of doing so. They came armed with two suggested alternatives: forming a regional waste disposal compact with other municipal and county governments and incinerating garbage. “We’ve seen our neighbors die,” said District 2 Councilwoman Goldie Wells, whose constituents live near the landfill. “We’ve seen the buzzards flying. We’ve smelled the smell. This is our lives.” At Wells’ request, upwards of 40 people stood in council chambers to express their opposition to reopening the landfill to solid waste. The landfill currently accepts yard waste and construction debris, while residential and commercial “trash” goes to the city’s solid waste transfer station, where it is loaded onto trucks and hauled to a landfill in Montgomery County. Beginning in October 2006, the landfill stopped accepting “hazardous waste of any kind, appliances, batteries, medical waste, liquid waste, asbestos, aluminum cans, large animals, tires, fluorescent bulbs, electronic equipment and contaminated soil,” according to the city website. The city voted to not expand the White Street Landfill and to seek alternatives to it in 2001. While the current council is divided over the landfill’s future, all agree that the 2001 amounted to a decision to close the landfill to solid waste. As Mayor Yvonne Johnson noted during the recent council meeting, the landfill does accept what is politely called “screening” material from the city’s nearby wastewater treatment plant. Most of it is comprised of used condoms and tampons, but it could include any non-organic material thrown in the toilet that has to be removed before the water can be treated. Environmental Director Jeryl Covington offered a less gross example. “You don’t want to print what it is,” she said. “Think of it this way. Let’s say you get in fight with your girlfriend, and you say, ‘I’m throwing your keys in the toilet.’ They would come out as screening.” Last year, Covington said, the landfill accepted 9,614 tons of screening. She said the practice is consistent with the city’s decision to close the landfill to residential and commercial waste because screening is not hazardous waste in the same way as would be a Clorox bottle with residual amounts of chemical liquids that might get tossed out with household trash. At the same time, because screening has been pulled out of sewer sludge it’s not fit to be packed up and shipped to the landfill. “You don’t want that hitting the floor,” Covington said. “It’s not easily processed. Think of what it’s been through. You really need to get it disposed of and get it covered up.” Wells’ predecessor, who died of cancer in 2007, looms large in the debate over whether White Street Landfill should again accept solid waste. “Remember our former city councilwoman, Claudette Burroughs-White, who mentioned to us she was ‘a walking time bomb’ with all the exposure she had to the landfill from birth to death,” said Mary Lou Clapp in remarks to the council. “She is only one of the many people in our area suffering from allergies, asthma, other diseases and all kinds of cancer.” Barber has estimated that the city could save $7-$14 million a year by handling its own trash, while staff arrived at an estimated cost savings of $3 million. “I’m not insensitive to your plight,” Barber told Wells’ constituents. “And you may think I’m insensitive in saying that. I accept that. I’m also not insensitive to the plight of the 249,000 people who are paying a ridiculous amount of money to truck their waste 80 miles.” Recognizing the budget crunch troubling the city, opponents of reopening the landfill have come armed with alternative proposals. “For years, it has been suggested that Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem form a regional waste management authority, purchase land in an area that land expansion is not a problem,” Clapp said. “Years ago, our city council needed to find a solution for a future water source. That’s now a beautiful lake, already ready to serve our area. Why can that not be done again? The more people involved, the less each city will have to pay. The county commissioners also need to step up to the plate and provide input to be part of the solution.” Valerie Niles, a Lynn Road resident who relocated to Greensboro from Newark, NJ, suggested that the city should incinerate its garbage and sell the energy to a power company. She noted that garbage from Newark is incinerated near the city’s international airport, and that the city brings in trash from other communities and is still not operating at full capacity. Incidentally, Piedmont Triad

International Airport is located on Greensboro’s affluent, west side. Opponents of reopening the landfill to solid waste, most notably Mayor Johnson, who is seeking reelection this year, have picked up on the theme of alternative waste disposal methods. “I would hope that one of the things this council will consider is all the new technology that’s in existence,” she said. “The clean incinerator that [Niles] mentioned was one of them. The production of methane that we do in our own landfill, that part of it goes to Cone [Mills], and we burn 440-some tons of it. We don’t do anything but burn it. The whole technology of mining landfills, we have the technology to do it with almost no environmental impact — to do it and create jobs.

And we need to be looking forward. We need to embrace this technology, and we do not need to open that landfill.” Even Wells suggested the city will have to innovate at least some of its waste disposal policies. “We need to be more creative and come up with ways that we can reuse the landfill, like they’re doing in other cities,” she said. “But the idea of reopening the landfill needs to be squashed. That discussion needs to cease.” District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy- Small and at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins have also steadfastly opposed reopening the landfill. “There was a six-three vote last year to not discuss the landfill any further,” Perkins said. “It’s certainly not my intent to open it back up.” Along with Barber, the two council members on the losing side of that vote were at-large Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw and District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade. “We need to look at it,” Wade said. “We need to look at whether we can make it better for people out there. They build parks on top of landfills.” For the three council members who want to entertain the possibility of reopening the landfill to prevail, they will have to win over Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Anderson Groat and District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny. “I would like to see what all the costs are,” Groat said, appearing to choke up. “But I will tell you: When I look out there and see Mary Oliver and all the people that bought houses from me, and I know how they felt getting their homes, it’s hard.” And while the election brings the possibility of new leadership, none of the contenders for districts 1 and 2, the city’s two majority black districts, are likely to break with the current representatives over the landfill. Ben Holder, a white candidate, who is challenging Bellamy-Small for the District 1 seat, outlined his position in few words during a press conference before the council meeting. “I need to see the real numbers,” he said. “If there’s a chance that people can get sick and die, then I’m against it.” Luther Falls Jr., a businessman who has previously run unsuccessfully in District 1, spoke out against reopening the landfill. And Ryan Shell, a white candidate who is the first to announce his intentions to run for the District 2 seat that Wells will vacate with her retirement at the end of her term, told council he had visited the Nealtown Farms neighborhood near the landfill to gauge residents’ feelings on the issue. “The many folks I spoke with were less than thrilled — outraged might be the best way to explain it,” he said. “It is my hope that Greensboro can grow to be a respected city that is not known as ‘the city that flip-flops on lifealtering decisions,’ but that is exactly where we are headed if you overturn a previous council’s decision to close the White Street Landfill to municipal waste. If for a moment you think the pollution that comes from a landfill does not affect one’s quality of life you are greatly mistaken.” Shell came with an alternative of his own. “Has a cost analysis been done to see what the city would save if all apartment complexes were required to offer recycling?” he asked. “This would easily cut down on the amount of trash that is hauled to Montgomery County.”

The candidate was greeted with applause from his would-be constituents.

‘Remember ourformer city councilwoman, Claudette Burroughs-White, who mentioned tous she was ‘a walking time bomb’ with all the exposure she had to thelandfill from birth to death. She is only one of the many people in ourarea suffering from allergies, asthma, other diseases and all kinds ofcancer.’ — Northeast Greensboro resident Mary Lou Clapp