Wade and Knight come out swinging on landfill issue

by Jordan Green

Conservative incumbents Trudy Wade and Bill Knight made their first public appearances in a lively City Council election campaign before a friendly audience at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum during a forum hosted by Conservatives for Guilford County last week.

The host organization asked candidates to address the White Street Landfill, along with the issues of fiscal responsibility and job creation, and the District 5 councilwoman took to the first issue in particular with zeal.

“The problem with the landfill is our trash is costing us millions of dollars,” she said. “There were conservative members of council that decided we needed to look at this issue for the people of Greensboro — all the people of Greensboro. Is there a way we could save money and with that money do things for economic development such as put in infrastructure, do things we really need in this city?

Are we getting the best bang for our buck with paying all that money to transport our trash, which is our responsibility, not our responsibility to go stick it in somebody else’s backyard — our responsibility as citizens that we should take care of our own trash?

“So yes, it’s a hot item; it was emotional,” Wade continued. “But let’s think about it a minute: Four of us — actually five, but one conservative member could no longer vote on the matter and had to recuse himself — took on this challenge: Let’s talk about White Street. Let’s see if there’s something we can do.”

District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny had been recused because of a conflict of interest with Gate City Waste Services, a vendor that was pre-selected to operate the landfill before withdrawing its bid. Matheny has not indicated publicly which way he would have voted on the landfill.

“I was listening before I got fully recused,” Matheny said, when reached for comment. “I was listening to whoever wanted to talk about solid waste disposal. When I say anyobody, I mean anybody, including the human relations commission…. Hopefully when I’m able to come back to the conversation I can continue the conversation because we need to come up with a solution for solid waste and waste to energy.”

Wade went on to dispute the cost-savings estimated by city staff and an outside consultant for reopening the landfill. Wade contended reopening the landfill would save the city $8 million per year, as opposed to $3.1 million.

“We can play with numbers all we want, but the way you get [the low] number is you add the closure cost in over a period of seven years,” she said. Wade’s math assumes that the city will have to pay closure costs for the White Street Landfill whether it’s reopened or not, but the city has maintained permitting and operational capabilities at the landfill since it stopped accepting municipal solid waste in 2006, and staff has put forth no plans to decommission it.

“It took brave people to bring this issue up,” Wade said, drawing applause. “There’s been people on the council for years. You’ve heard some candidates tonight and city council representatives that said, ‘I’ve been on the council 12 years, 16 years.’ Well, we don’t have a plan for solid waste, and they’ve been there for that amount of time because they didn’t tackle the situation.”

Mayor Bill Knight expressed disappointment that efforts to reopen the landfill have been successfully blocked.

“We’re faced with trying to find a way to stop the hemorrhaging of millions of dollars each year; that was not the case just five years ago,” Knight said. “We did have a solution at hand, but it’s too late now to turn back the clock on that. I’ve seen nearby communities — Winston-Salem and Raleigh, for instance — with landfills very similar to ours that have gone forward to significant economic development without the problems that we have here or have had in Greensboro. Economically, we are behind on this issue.”