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Hard decision on solid waste looms before Greensboro council

by Jordan Green

White Street landfill. (file photo)

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The Greensboro City Council was scheduled to interview five solid waste companies on Tuesday, as part of a process of sifting through proposals and finalizing a contract by the beginning of the next fiscal year.

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With the city facing a tight budget as a result of stagnant property tax revenues and anticipated cuts at the state level, the council will be under pressure to find cost savings by reopening the White Street Landfill, which is located in a predominantly African-American area of northeast Greensboro.

“Let’s get some of those sacred cows,” Bob Skenes, a resident of Starmount Forest, told City Manager Rashad Young during a community budget meeting on Monday. “Let’s get White Street open. Let’s get our garbage back where it belongs. Let’s save some real money.”

The proposals under consideration by council come down to three basic options. Republic Services, which currently accepts the city’s municipal solid waste at its Uwharrie landfill in Montgomery County, is proposing to continue its contract, but is offering the city a rate reduction of 84 cents per ton, with an annual cost savings of $198,996.

The city currently pays $41 per ton to dispose of its solid waste in the Montgomery County landfill.

Three other companies — Gate City Waste Services, Advanced Disposal and Waste Industries — are proposing to reopen the White Street Landfill. While city staff does not expect to have a comparative cost analysis completed until April 19, the cost savings of reopening the landfill are widely assumed to be significant.

The consequences of reopening the landfill to city race relations could also be significant. Michael Roberto, a member of the Greensboro Human Relations Commission, called the landfill a “monument to the legacy of racial segregation,” and said reopening it “would constitute a blatant act of racial segregation.”

And the Rev. Gray Clark asked council on March 15: “Would you impose this kind of blight on any other part of the city? I doubt that you would. I preach the gospel of a man who was crucified on a garbage dump — Golgotha…. If it becomes a racist decision because you’re putting this in an area where people of a different race live, it becomes a moral one. I hope you will pray on it.”

A third option, proposed by Carolina Energy Development, would use a waste-conversion technology called advanced pyrolysis to break down waste at the city’s transfer station on Burnt Poplar Road, located at the western end of town.

The company would charge $40 per ton to the city, but CEO John Rodenbough said if the project qualifies for a US Department of Energy grant the company could potentially offer greater savings to the city.

Carolina Energy Development would partner with International Environmental Solutions Corp., which holds the patent on the technology. International Energy Solutions Corp. operated a research facility in Riverside County, Calif. from 2005 to 2010. It recently sold its equipment to an outfit that has plans to process residential waste and recycled tires on the Cabazon Indian reservation, also in Riverside County.

Jeff Gow, a waste management engineer with the Riverside County Public Works Department, said his county is not currently pursuing pyrolysis as a solution to solid waste disposal, and the technology has not yet overcome environmental concerns about air emissions.

Karen Bertram, president of International Environmental Solutions Corp., responded: “Air emissions are one of our better things. We have had no air issues.”

When the nine-member council votes on the future of the city’s solid waste disposal later this spring, the split is expected to be close. Only at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins, District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small and District 2 Councilman Jim Kee have ruled out reopening the White Street Landfill.

At-large Councilman Danny Thompson told voters during his 2009 campaign that he was not in favor of reopening the landfill or continuing to transport the city’s waste down to Montgomery County.

“Now, I think what we can do is, as has been stated before, technology has advanced to where we can turn our trash into treasure, be it an incinerator, be it covering it and tapping the methane gas, or be it contracting out and allowing miners to go in to be able to dig through the trash and do whatever miners do with trash,” he said at the time.

Now, Thompson, who is part of the council’s conservative majority, said he has reconsidered conversion technology.

“As I have made the transition from being a candidate and looking at doing some research on the [alternative] technology, it doesn’t appear that technology is the most effective, nor is it something that’s being utilized on a regular scale here in the United States.”

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