White Street area residents unimpressed by waste vendors’ proposals

by Jordan Green

Former Mayor Yvonne Johnson wasamong roughly a half-dozen African-American northeast Greensboro residentswho told the Greensboro HumanRelations Commission on April 7 that theywould like to see the White Street Landfillremain closed. Johnson characterized the impact of thelandfill on surrounding residents as “heavy traffic, trucks, sometimes garbage has fallen off oftrucks, bad odors, various kinds of animals likebig, fat rats and so on and so forth.”Since the landfill stopped accepting municipalsolid waste in the past decade, the formermayor said the area saw some improvementsin economic development and housing with theopening of Wal-Mart and Lowes. Johnson said that discussions about the possibilityof reopening the landfi ll that have takenplace over the past two years are dividing thecity. Without mentioning by name Joe Williams,a prominent local African-American lawyerwho is promoting a proposal by one vendor tomake White Street a regional, privately operatedlandfill, Johnson staked out a differentposition. “It’s very interesting that many of the proposalsthat have come in have financial benefits forthe community and that’s because they probablyfeel that because of all the trucks and allthe other things that they have to pay the community,”she said. “There are some things youcan’t pay people to do. One is to sell their souls,and I won’t do that.” Hugh Latham, the principal developer ofNealtown Estates, expressed the view that thecity council’s ongoing discussion about thepossible reopening of the landfill has hurt salesfor his business. Latham said nine houses havebeen completed in the 28-lot subdivision, withtwo currently under construction. He warnedthat the city can expect lawsuits from neighboringresidents whose property values he says willbe depressed if the landfill is reopened.Noting the estimated cost savings of reopeningthe landfill — ranging from $1.5 millionto $15 million — Latham said the city shouldweigh that against “the potential liability offorcing people’s mortgage’s underwater withone specific act.” “Location, location, location is very importantin real estate,” he said. “This one specificact will force people to reconsider [buyinghomes]. I have people coming to me, [asking],‘Are they opening the landfill again?’ All I cansay is, ‘Not right now.’“I have all my life savings tied up in this,”Latham continued. “I thought I was doing agood thing. I was going on faith that the councilsaid the landfill was closed. And I am going tohold them to their word.” Beryl Battle, who has lived in the area since1994, said she has had her house on the marketfor three years because she would like to movecloser to her daughter. “Very few people are viewing our house,”she said. “I know that the housing market isdown. I think that reopening this landfill isgoing to hurt the community; it’s going to drainthe home values. I don’tknow if it is because of themention of the landfill thatwe have not had an offer.” The hearing was alsoattended by council membersJim Kee and MaryRakestraw; assistant citymanagers Bob Morganand Denise Turner; andEnvironmental ServicesDirector Jeryl Covington.Chair Maxine Bakemansaid the commission agreedto facilitate dialogue on theimpact of the White Street Landfill on the surroundingcommunity after being approached byConcerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro. Bakeman and longtime resident Howard Fieldsrecently appeared on “The Bottom Line withBob Davis” on 90.1 WNAA FM, the campusstation at NC A&T University, to promote thehearing. In addition to teaching sociology atA&T and hosting the public affairs programon 90.1, Davis serves as the interim chair ofConcerned Citizens. Bakeman said the eventwas also publicized with fl iers posted aroundnortheast Greensboro.Bakeman said the commission intends toavoid taking sides on the landfi ll question,and instead facilitate discussion and compileinformation. A second forum will be held inthe community in May, and Bakeman saidshe is trying to identify experts from the NCDepartment of Health and Human Services andthe Guilford County Public Health Departmentthat can answer questions related to landfi llsand health.A report by the Guilford County Departmentof Public Health released in November concludedthat there is no health risk to residents livingnear the EH Glass dump, which is located nearthe landfill, “and that further investigation,including community surveys, is unwarranted.”Some residents made anecdotal references toillness and disease in the community during theApril 7 forum. Linda Waddell said, “There were problemswith birth defects. That has not been disclosedproperly.”Fields said, “Death came right down mystreet.” After the hearing, he rattled off thenames of six Belden Drive residents who havesuccumbed from cancer since the 1980s, addingthat two of his neighbors currently have cancer. Following questioning during the hearingby Commissioner Michael Roberto, Fieldsacknowledged, “We didn’t have any empiricaldata as far as the illnesses were concerned….When it rained, runoff water from the priviesran into the wells.”The NC Central CancerRegistry released a study lastfall finding that the rate ofpancreatic cancer in the areanear the landfill is significantly higher than expected,but cautioned against anyassumption about causality.Its report noted that thedevelopment of residentialproperty near the landfill“took place almost simultaneouslywith annexation ofmost of the area by the cityof Greensboro, which meant that newcomerswere soon using municipal water. Municipalwater is supplied by lakes Townsend andBrandt, which are located far from the locationsof the landfills, in a well protected watershedwith no point-source pollution. The numberof persons who have using well water in areasaround the dumpsite and landfill, simultaneouswith the operation of both, has not been determined,but is expected to be very low relative tothe study area population as a whole.” Fields and his neighbors live south of thelandfill. The central cancer registry study statesthat ground and surface water fl ow in a northeasterlydirection toward Buffalo Creek and itstributaries.Melvin DuBose, a member of the PenroseEstates community, said residents feel slightedby the vendors proposing to reopen the WhiteStreet Landfill and by some of the city’s leadership.In a March 26 letter to City Manager RashadYoung and members of council, DuBose saidonly a few of the several vendors proposingto privately handle the city’s solid waste haveaccepted an invitation to present their plans tothe community.DuBose said that Young made a visit to thecommunity, but Mayor Bill Knight has yet todo so. That, coupled with the mayor’s refusal toapologize for a remark expressing the view thatpolice Chief Tim Bellamy was selected becauseof race, has put a sour taste in Dubose’s mouth.“The new mayor, he was supposed to comeout with the manager, but he never came out,”DuBose said. “Like the comment he madeabout the chief, it’s like he’s trying to divide thecommunity.”Before the White Street Landfill was closedto municipal solid waste, residents had to contendwith wet garbage falling out of trucks onnearby roadways. “When people say, ‘Open up the landfillagain,’ that’s the first thing they think,” hesaid.