The deliberations were relatively brief considering that the issue has been roiling the Greensboro City Council since former Councilman Mike Barber proposed it three years ago. The council indicated by a straw poll of 4-2 that it will reopen the White Street Landfill during a work session that lasted less than 90 minutes today.
“We’ve got some pretty substantial responses to this,” Mayor Bill Knight said. “Economics certainly influenced my thinking on this.” An cost-comparison analysis by consulting company HDR earlier this month found the city could save from $6.2 million to $7.9 million a year through one of the proposals to reopen the landfill.
After dispensing with some redistricting business — the council agreed to set a public hearing for next Tuesday to adopt a new district map — at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins raised some questions about whether the city could get out of a 15-year contract with a prospective vendor without incurring significant financial costs, and tried unsuccessfully to get support from fellow council members for directing staff to determine the cost to the city of operating the landfill itself.
At-large Councilman Danny Thompson quickly moved the discussion towards the result everybody seemed to know the conservative majority was headed for. He proposed eliminating Republic Services, which currently transports the city’s waste to Montgomery County, from consideration. Republic has offered to continue the service at a reduced rate.
“I don’t think we did this to try to shave 84 cents per ton off with Republic Services,” Thompson said.
Next, the council eliminated Carolina Energy Development, the sole proposer that offered to handle the city’s waste through a waste-to-energy facility, and knocked out an option offered by Advanced Disposal to operate the White Street Landfill while leaving overall management to the city. That leaves three similar proposals to privatize the White Street Landfill by Waste Industries, Advanced Disposal and a local company, Gate City Waste Services.
Today’s vote was an informal decision, but City Manager Rashad Young said he expects council ratify the decision in a formal vote at next Tuesday’s council meeting.
Knight and Thompson were joined by District 4 Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw and District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade in supporting a move to short-list three companies proposing to reopen the White Street Landfill. District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small and District 2 Councilman Jim Kee indicated that they do not support the decision.
After the votes were counted, Wade asked to staff to look into building the Cone Boulevard/Nealtown Connector to provide an alternative entrance to the landfill for the purpose of reducing the burden on residents and identifying locations for economic development in the area.
“The Nealtown Connector has been on the books for close to 30 years," Bellamy-Small protested. :The Nealtown Connector should be built, as it was deserved to give flow and connectivity to that part of northeast Greensboro regardless of whether a landfill is active or inactive. That is something that the people of that area of town should have anyway."
Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan has been recused from participating in deliberations over the solid waste issue because her husband provides legal representation to Waste Industries, one of the companies proposing to reopen the landfill. City Attorney Rita Danish was researching whether Perkins and District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny have a conflict of interest because of business dealings with DH Griffin, a demolition company whose principals are partners in Gate City Waste Services, another venture seeking a contract to operate the landfill.
After the work session, Thompson deflected concerns that reopening the landfill will deter economic development in northeast Greensboro.
“It didn’t stop the Carolina Circle Mall from being built out there,” he said. “What’s preventing development is that there hasn’t been infrastructure: roads, water and sewer.”
Mary Lou Clapp, who lives about a mile from the landfill, came up and put her hand on Thompson's shoulder.
"You say all the time to the public that you spend $8 million [on the city's waste]," she said, "but you're not talking about the profit the city makes from charging for private trash."
Perkins said after the meeting: "I've known for six to eight months that the council was going to open the landfill. This has all be a charade to make it look like they want to consider all the options. This has been the goal of the majority of this council for a long time. They had to make it look like they were really concerned about it. Technology was the way they softened the blow. That didn't work out. Now, they're talking about building roads. I hope east Greensboro gets some roads out of it. They're going to get a landfill."
The Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice has asked the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources to deny a revised permit to the city of Greensboro to discard municipal solid waste in Phase III of the White Street Landfill. Both Young and Chris Brook, a staff attorney with the coalition, said they do not know when to expect a decision from the division. The coalition has threatened the city with a racial discrimination lawsuit if it goes forward with reopening the landfill. Brook wrote in a recent letter to Young that while blacks and Hispanics comprise about 40.1 percent of the city’s population, “the community most directly impacted by the White Street Landfill is overwhelmingly African-American and Hispanic.”
Young said the city has already negotiated a one-year agreement with Hilco Transport, which currently hauls the city’s trash to Montgomery County, as a contingency plan and will do the same with Republic Services now that it is no longer a contender for the city’s primary service contract.
“We would have a secondary option that involves the same process even before the lawsuit [was mentioned],” Young said.
“The action that we would potentially litigate over is if an amendment to the current MSW permit were granted by DENR or if the city or a private entity seeks to further permit to expand the landfill,” Brook said. “That’s sort of a pivot point for legal action. We do think the NC Solid Waste Act of 2007 prohibits the city of Greensboro from expanding the landfill, and if we continued along this course then the city of Greensboro and the private operators would be subject to legal action.”
Brook said he was not surprised by the council’s decision.
“I think the council has made it pretty clear that they were on this path for awhile,” he said. “I do hope that there will be some due diligence by the council as they approach a final vote and that they fully consider the negative budgetary and business aspects of reopening the landfill.”