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Private companies propose to reopen White Street Landfill

by Jordan Green

Greensboro’s waste is currently trucked down to a landfill in Montgomery County from this transfer station, but several companies are proposing to reopen the White Street Landfill in the northeast part of the city. (photo by Jordan Green)

Seven proposals submitted by private companies for handling Greensboro’s municipal solid waste disposal leave the city with a bewildering array of options ranging from traditional landfilling to alternative technologies such as plasma gasification and pyrolysis, but most of which involve reopening the White Street Landfill.

City Manager Rashad Young said it will be difficult for council to determine which criteria to use in evaluating the proposals.

“Yeah, it’s going to be hard,” he said. “You have things that cover the spectrum in terms of their approach, in terms of the technology that they use. It’s going to be hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison.”

Members of Greensboro city council received copies of the proposals last week. Young has asked them to review the proposals and bring recommendations to staff.

“They did make it clear that they did not want staff to drive this process and be an intermediary,” Young said of council. “Given the direction they gave at the beginning, I wanted to make sure they got an opportunity to drive this process themselves.”

The request for proposals is one of the final legacies of former Councilman Mike Barber, who strenuously objected to an earlier plan by the city manager to issue a request for qualifications. Council members took an unofficial vote during a briefing last October to issue the request for proposals. At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins was on the losing side of that fight.

“I think it was set up to fail from the start, and you had a process that didn’t work,” Perkins said. “And professional staff said it didn’t work, and advised us to take a two-step process and start narrowing down what we were looking at. The majority ignored that. Now, we’ve got apples and oranges, bananas and fruitcakes and everything else…. That’s not fair to the people who are proposing. And the people who are opposed to reopening the White Street Landfill, we’re holding them in limbo.”

The request for proposals makes clear that the responses may or may not be used in the development of a “procurement strategy” for handling the city’s solid waste.

The request for proposals was initially requested by Cico LLC, a newly formed company headed by former Councilman Bob Mays. The company proposes to reopen the White Street Landfill in north east

Greensboro as a waste-to-energy facility that would use a process called pyrolysis that involves using heat naturally produced by condensed waste to create an energy byproduct. The company has no experience in waste disposal, but suggests that city officials could visit a California facility operated by International Environmental Solutions to get a sense of how the technology works.

Cico pledges to save the city $5.2 million per year by reopening the White Street Landfill as an alternative to the current arrangement of shipping municipal solid waste down to a landfill in Montgomery County. The company would remit $2 per ton of solid waste into an independently governed nonprofit called the Eastern Development Growth Enterprise, or EDGE, designed for the purpose of stimulating neighborhood redevelopment.

The politically connected enterprise has retained lawyer Cameron Cooke, also a former councilman, and Paul Gilmer, a realtor and area resident who formerly served on the zoning commission. Cico touts its private waste disposal project as a boon to economic development in the area and its plan as “the most important element for the revival of the area.”

Cico submitted three renderings showing expansion of the landfill and a machinery layout, along with a “Study Area Map” showing such local landmarks as Wal-Mart, the Greensboro Sportsplex and the planned Keeley Park as “confidential information.” State law allows local governments to not release materials defined as “trade secrets.” Mays could not be reached for an explanation of why the documents were being withheld, and City Manager Rashad Young said that the city’s legal department was honoring the request under the rationale that it prefers to risk a lawsuit from a media organization rather than a vendor.

Another company formed last year for the purpose of seeking a contract to handle the city’s solid waste also submitted a proposal. A representative of Ulturnagen made a presentation to council during a briefing least July. Its proposal is scant on details compared to the one submitted by Cico.

Ulturnagen proposes to reopen the White Street Landfill as a facility for the disposal of solid waste, using plasma gasification supplemented by pyrolysis. The company’s chief development officer, Gary L. Lebby, is a professor of machine intelligence at NC A&T University. While the company’s principals appear to have no practical experience in operating plasma gasification plants, Ulturnagen’s proposal offers to provide at no cost to the city “a tour of a like operating gasification facility in the event that a review of the operation is deemed necessary.”

No cost savings to the city are referenced in the proposal, but the company says it could process 2,000 tons of waste per day and export 60 megawatts of electricity and produce a vitreous slurry byproduct for use in building products and roadfill.

Most of the proposals entail traditional landfilling at White Street. By far the most detailed of these was submitted by Waste Industries, which pledges to reduce the city’s waste disposal costs by 30 percent, translating into $3 million in savings in the first year of operation.

Waste Industries’ proposal was submitted by Greensboro lawyer Joseph A. Williams, who has acted as a voting member of the Simkins PAC. The political action committee interviews candidates for office, votes by secret ballot to select candidates for endorsement and distributes its recommendations by mail to black voters in Greensboro.

“The PAC’s position was not to reopen White Street Landfill, and that continues to be our position,” Chairman Steve Bowden said on Monday, while declining to specify what, if any, role Williams currently plays in the organization. Williams did not return calls for this story.

A company website description of work accomplished by partners in Williams’ Greensboro law firm reads, “They defeated some of the world’s largest corporations deterring them from building environmentally degrading landfills in our communities.”

Waste Industries pledges to save the city $3 million per year, and provide cash payments for “city programs, public safety, education and a ‘Northeast Community Chest’ for local economic development.”

The company’s submittal denigrates alternative technologies such as those proposed by Cico and Ulturnagen, arguing, “There are a host of so-called alternative technologies, everything from in-vessel digestors to the plasma arc, which may work in theory but, when applied to hundreds of tons per day, cannot meet the demand and are completely cost prohibitive. The lined Subtitle D landfill is the only proven technology that will work for the city of Greensboro and, to date according to [the NC Department of Natural Resources], is protecting the groundwater in all North Carolina landfills just as it was designed to do.”

If selected, Waste Industries would request that the city approve an expansion of its service area to within a 90-mile radius, including Durham, Stokes, Yadkin and Alleghany counties, along with parts of Virginia. The company pledges to “actively and aggressively market the White Street Landfill to out-of-county private collection companies and local governments that control their collection programs.”

The company’s procurement strategy emphasizes both local contractor participation, including a number of minority owned businesses, and community assistance.

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‘I think it was set up to fail from the start, and you had a process that didn’t work. And professional staff said it didn’t work, and advised us to take a two-step process and start narrowing down what we were looking at. The majority ignored that. Now, we’ve got apples and oranges, bananas and fruitcakes and everything else.’ — Greensboro Councilman Robbie Perkins

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Among local firms and business owners identified “for inclusion in the project team for this proposal” are Davenport Transportation Consulting of Winston-Salem, Cornelious Lamberth of Greensboro and 64 Masonry of Asheboro. “We understand the importance of choosing the ‘home team,’” a letter from Waste Industries to the contractor reads. “With your permission we would like to include you on our list of qualified contractors and will contact you as soon as possible once the city of Greensboro gives the green light.”

The company also pledges to build four miles of greenways around the landfill for use by neighboring residents and to convert the scale house and administrative offices into an Environmental Education Center.

Only one proposal to the city includes a scenario that does not involve the use of the White Street site.

Raleigh-based MRR Southern would open a waste-to-energy facility in southern Greensboro near the Interstate 85-73 interchange. The company would collaborate with Colorado-based Novo Development Co. to build a waste-toenergy facility on land owned by DH Griffin demolition company on Viewmont Drive. Greensboro-based DH Griffin is also an investor in the project. The proposal describes the location as “ideally suited for a waste-to-energy facility with the excellent transportation corridors of Interstates 85 and 73 surrounding the site,” and with several other industrial operations in the immediate vicinity, including “a MSW waste transfer facility, a C&D landfill, an asphalt processing plant, several abandoned and/or active sand rock quarries, three closed landfills and three trucking companies.”

The proposal predicts that the facility would produce 20.5 megawatts of electricity per day, but cautions that if not properly managed the process could result in airborne emissions and runoff from the waste handling pad.”

Perkins, who reviewed the materials over the weekend, called MRR Southern’s submittal “one of the more innovative proposals.”

Republic Services, which currently accepts Greensboro’s waste at its landfill in Montgomery County, did not submit a proposal. A representative wrote the city that the company was “reluctant to submit a proposal without better direction from council regarding acceptable alternatives.”

The councilman said he believes the city will have to spend some money to hire a solid waste expert to sort through the proposals. City Manager Rashad Young said he has a consultant from a solid waste engineering firm in mind should the council opt to take advantage of the resource.

With staff pushed aside, the process of determining whether to change the way the city handles its solid waste and if so, which plan it goes with, has defaulted to council members. The discussion promises to be a scorching contest between Perkins, who remains adamantly opposed to reopening the White Street Landfill, and District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade, who has expressed interest in exploring more cost-efficient alternatives to the current arrangement.

“It’s a major line item in our budget,” District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny said. “And by the way, people are going to continue to use trash…. Therefore we will continue to talk about it. Are you going to talk about it in an educated format? I prefer to do it in an educated format.”

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