Greensboro council considers solid-waste proposals

by Jordan Green

Greensboro’s solid waste currently ends up at a transfer station on Burnt Poplar Road. The city council might opt to reopen the White Street Landfill instead. (file photo)

For the first time, the Greensboro City Council has tangible cost-saving numbers to guide its decision later this spring over whether to reopen the White Street Landfill to municipal solid waste.

Council met for four hours on March 22 to interview five private companies proposing to handle the city’s solid waste. Before council members heard the presentations, staff handed out a memo indicating the city could save $3.5 million to $5.3 million a year by reopening the landfill and operating it as a public utility. Staff estimates the city currently spends $4.2 million to transport municipal solid waste to Uwharrie landfill in Montgomery County, taking into consideration revenues from tipping fees from private haulers at the city’s transfer station and from construction and demolition waste currently accepted at the White Street Landfill.

Council heard from three companies proposing to reopen the White Street Landfill for the disposal of municipal solid waste. The final presentation came from Florida-based Advanced Disposal, whose representative pledged the city an annual cost savings of $7.4 million. The company made a hard pitch, leaving feelgood community relations to the competitors.

“I’m in the solid-waste business,” Chief Marketing Officer Mary O’Brien said in an interview last week. “I know solid waste better than I know psychology and human relations. Myself and my company approached [the request for proposals] more from maximizing the value of an existing city asset.”

She added that neighboring residents should have no concerns about the public health impact of reopening the landfill.

“Advanced Disposal, Waste Industries, Republic Services and Waste Corporation of America — we are all very good, responsible solid waste companies,” O’Brien said. “And we are going to do our best to protect the environment and surrounding community. I’m not familiar enough with Carolina Energy Development to say that about them.”

Advanced Disposal contends that its proposal offers the city the greatest savings and that it would beat its nearest competitor, another company with plans to reopen the landfill, by $618,000 a year.

“I was a little upset by the way they presented their information,” said Jerry Johnson, vice president for project development for Raleigh-based

Waste Industries. “They push and pack only. There was no money for construction, closure, post-closure. Our price that we gave is a fixed price of $15 per ton to take full responsibility for cells 3, 3A, 4 and 5 for the life of the 15-year contract. They were just doing an operations proposal and not taking full responsibility for all of the site.

O’Brien acknowledged that Advanced Disposal’s proposal does not include construction or closure costs and said her analysis of the difference in each company’s cost savings to the city does not factor in Waste Industries’ pledge to pay for construction and closure. She also noted Waste Industries’ price form does not spell out those commitments.

At-large Councilman Danny Thompson said that based on Waste Industries’ proposal, the company could save the city $6.7 million per year.

Johnson, with Waste Industries, told council that the White Street Landfill “is an asset that you have here that can control your own destiny here in Greensboro.”

Both companies have experience handling municipal solid waste through local government contracts. Advanced Disposal owns and operates the Wolf Creek Landfill in Dry Branch, Ga. The company was awarded privatization of the landfill through a competitive process set up by Twiggs and Wilkerson counties. Waste Industries operates the South Wake Landfill through a contract with Wake County here in North Carolina.

“They’ve been a very good community corporate partner,” said Ray Bennett, chair of the Twiggs County Commission, about Advanced Disposal. “They run a tight ship. We are fortunate, I feel, to have them here.”

He added that the two counties’ partnership with Advanced Disposal has occasioned no surprises.

“Waste Industries has complied with the terms of our contract,” said Johnny Beal, facility manager for the Wake County Solid Waste Management Division. “We don’t have any problems with their operation of the facility at all.”

The South Wake Landfill has only four single-family homes and 10 people living within 750 feet from its waste edge, according to information posted on the county’s website.

Northeast Greensboro residents who live in the area of the White Street Landfill and some allies in the western part of the city have argued that reopening the landfill would harm human health, stunt economic growth and generally constitute a display of disrespect to the area’s African-American majority.

The NC Central Cancer Registry has reported that rates of pancreatic cancer in the area of the landfill are higher than expected, but the cause of the higher incidence has not been established.

Goldie Wells, a community leader in northeast Greensboro who preceded Jim Kee as the District 2 representative on council, said residents generally favor a proposal by Republic Services that would more or less continue the current arrangement of transporting the city’s solid waste to Montgomery County.

District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny questioned Drew Isenhour, a vice president with Republic Services during the interview session.

“Would you utilize White Street Landfill or consider utilizing White Street Landfill?” Matheny asked. “Would it not be beneficial to utilize White Street?” Isenhour responded that Uwharrie landfill, which his company owns, can operate more cheaply than White Street Landfill on a per-ton basis because of Uwharrie’s greater capacity.

The city currently pays about $41 per ton to dispose of its municipal solid waste. That includes fees paid to Hilco Transport to ferry the garbage to Montgomery County and fees to Republic to accept the waste. Republic Services has offered the city a rate reduction of 84 cents per ton.

A fifth company, Summerfield-based Carolina Energy Development, is proposing to use a waste-to-energy conversion technology known as advanced pyrolysis to dispose of the city’s solid waste at the city-owned transfer station on Burnt Poplar Road.

Wells said residents of northeast Greensboro have become increasingly skeptical about alternative technology.

“The reason we didn’t choose that is they couldn’t be ready in 18 months,” Wells said. “They were charging $40 per ton. We haven’t seen enough proof about the technology side.”

At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins questioned the viability of Carolina Energy Development’s proposal, considering that CEO John Rodenbough said the company would have to raise $73 million from private investors to build its facility.

“If we’ve only got 122,000 tons of waste, that’s $4.8 million a year,” Perkins said. “How

are you going to gap the difference between what we’ve got in our control to pay back a $73 million loan?” Rodenbough responded that the sale of electricity from processing the waste would pay back the loan, while the city’s tipping fees would pay for day-to-day operations.

“You’re going to generate $6 million of electricity per year?” asked a clearly dubious Perkins.

“We’re going to be producing more than that,” Rodenbough responded.

Kee said he believes the company’s presentation establishes that alternative technology is viable.

“There are a lot of technology disbelievers,” he said. “I graduated from a technology school, so I believe it.”

Gate City Waste Services, a new company whose partners include Waste Corporation of America, MRR Southern and the Greensboro father-son demolition team of DH Griffin and David Griffin Jr., is proposing to reopen the landfill at a cost to the city of $15 per ton.

Managing member Norbert Hector’s proposal cover letter demonstrates a soft-sell approach, balancing community concerns with cost savings.

“We are sensitive to the history of waste management in Greensboro and the community’s many concerns,” he writes. “We want to be part of the solution to our community’s dilemma of how to help solve the economic challenges before city council, and at the same time operate a local landfill in a manner that is accepted by its neighbors.”

Gate City Waste Service proposes to create an alternate entrance to the landfill to re-route heavy truck traffic away from residential areas. During his presentation to council, Hector discussed his company’s research into alternative technology.

Kee asked Hector how long it would take his company to transition from traditional landfilling to conversion technology and whether it is his intent to do so.

Hector answered that, indeed, it is his intent.

He said in a roundabout way that the company could transition to conversion technology when it made economic sense to do so.

After the presentation, Kee pondered whether he would approve a contract for a company such as Gate City Waste Services that was proposing to reopen the landfill while making noises about exploring alternative technology in the future.

“That would be tough to consider,” Kee said.