Doubts arise about whether alternative technologies will satisfy requirements of residents near landfill

by Jordan Green

A rift emerged in the coalition to keep the White Street Landfill closed to household waste at a recent Greensboro City Council hearing on solid-waste options.


At least three representatives on the ninemember council have pledged to keep the landfill closed: at-large member Robbie Perkins, who has acknowledged an interest in serving as mayor, along with Dianne Bellamy- Small and Jim Kee, the two African-American members who represent the east side of the city.

Kee challenged a statement by Perkins that the city’s best option is to continue to truck its garbage down to a landfill in Montgomery County while exploring a long-term plan to create a regional solid waste authority.

“I don’t think we’re going to have the luxury of not doing anything,” said Kee, the District 2 representative. “You’ve got an atlarge community in Greensboro that’s going to read in tomorrow’s paper that we’re going to spend $250 million in solid waste disposal over 25 years, and we could save $100 million. And we have District 2 that does not want to be host of the city’s trash. I am not in favor of reopening the White Street Landfill, but we cannot sit idly and disregard other possibilities that can bring tax savings to the city, but perhaps [also] economic development, which is definitely needed in Greensboro.”

Kee suggested the city invite three out of nine companies that have submitted written proposals to give detailed presentations to council and staff. The three companies flagged by Kee for a second look and also recommended by an Environmental Safety Advisory Committee empanelled by the councilman — Cico, Ulturnagen and Waste Connections — have all proposed using alternative wastedisposal technologies to create jobs.

The recommendation, which was endorsed by Mayor Bill Knight, has exposed a contradiction in the goals of the neighborhood coalition organized to keep the landfill closed.

Kee’s predecessor in the District 2 seat and civic mentor, Goldie Wells, chairs the Environmental Safety Advisory Committee. Wells noted during the hearing that the while the committee did recommend giving preference to three private vendors and called on the city to “consider the most advanced technology for solid waste disposal,” its first priority is that the city find another location for solid waste disposal that is not adjacent to residential neighborhoods. Wells said, “Some of the providers have no proven track record.”

After the hearing, Kee sought Wells out in the gallery of council chambers.

“That consultant brought out information about these risks,” Wells said.

Kee interrupted, “I’m privy to some information that Councilman Perkins is not privy to.”

“These companies have not proven themselves,” Wells insisted.

“That’s the same argument about minority contractors,” Kee rejoined.

Afterwards, Wells noted that Kee and other District 2 residents have entertained the notion of hosting a solid waste facility because of the notion that it would create jobs.

“All that is speculation,” she said. A report to council by HDR Consulting casts doubt on the notion that any of the alternative options for waste disposal are likely to both keep the landfill closed and allow for the development advanced technologies. The report recommends that “if reopening White Street is not option,” the city should “continue out-of-county disposal.” The two other political choices — obtaining the best cost savings and implementing alternative technologies — both entail reopening White Street as a landfill, according to the report.

The report recommends that if “cost of service is most important,” Greensboro should consider a landfill-based system at White Street, operated either privately or by the city, and consider expanding the service area to collect host fees from outside communities.

If “alternative technology is most important, while minimizing cost of service,” the consulting firm recommends considering “landfill-based system at White Street with future [waste-to-energy] facility.”

Kee said in a recent interview that the Cico, Ulturnagen and Waste Connections have all represented that they would be able to operate waste disposal facilities in District 2 using alternative technologies without locating at the White Street site. Bob Mays, a former city councilman who is the manager of Cico, contradicted that notion.

“Cico would not and I don’t believe very many of the others could set up a new technology facility at another site,” he said. “No matter how efficient they are, they produce waste…. You have to go through a permitting process. That process has been done at White Street.”

Kee said he is certain that his constituents in District 2 would not support reopening the landfill at White Street on a temporary basis while an alternative technology facility is ramped up. In fact, that is specifically what Cico is proposing.

“We’re transitioning from landfilling to technology as quickly as we can,” Mays said. “We need to do the little bit of landfilling to generate some income to cover the closure costs.”

Mays disputed a statement in the Environmental Safety Advisory Committee report contending that it would take Cico eight years to build its facility. Mays said the number was misconstrued from a statement he made regarding the amount of time it might take to extend the Cone Boulevard for the purpose of relieving heavy truck traffic through residential neighborhoods. He added that Cico had explored the possibility of paying for the road, and estimated eight years as the amount of time it would take to pay for construction.

“I think we wouldn’t have to do much landfilling,” he said. “We’ve been able to get a little better handle on the amount of lead time it will take to manufacture the equipment. The thing that has us concerned is how long it will take to build the building that houses the equipment. To be reasonable, we’re looking at 18 months.”

Finding a way to reroute trucks coming through residential neighborhoods is a factor Kee indicated as important to lessening the impact on residents.

“Jim Kee and I recently met with the city finance director, and we believe we can accelerate the [road-building] project,” Mays said.

“One of the things that’s on the table is that Cico pay the debt service [on recent transportation bonds]. The debt service on those bonds is about $800,000 a year. I believe Cico could do that.”

Mays said the city would not be undertaking a financial risk by allowing Cico to pioneer pyrolysis, a process that breaks down organic material at high temperatures, as a solid waste technology at White Street.

“If we had a contract and we broke that contract we would pay a penalty,” he said. “The city has a number of choices that they can choose from if there were to be a default. That’s part of what makes Councilman Perkins’ comments so ridiculous is he almost implies the council is powerless to enforce a contract. They do that every day. If one contractor is unable to complete a job, they find another.”

Mays estimated that his operation would create three times as many jobs as a traditional landfill operation.

“I think it’s a very good certainty that, if given the contract, we’ll be able to create more than 100 jobs,” he said. “Some are very skilled jobs. Others are more manual jobs. That’s something we have to recognize that the community is crying out for.”