New Hanover County Commissioners Chairman Jonathan Barfield said questions and concerns about the future of the area’s solid-waste management could, essentially, carry on forever. So, he said, it’s time to move forward with a foundation.
A vote to that end may come at the board’s Nov. 13 meeting.
“The reality is we have a trash problem in our community,” Barfield said, referring to the limited space available at the county landfill off U.S 421 and the lengths of time already invested in the proposal to reactivate the county’s defunct incinerator and burn off a great portion of the waste stream.
A revised draft contract presented to the board Monday morning seemed to address what Barfield and county staffers believed to be the primary concern: that the county could maintain flow control in a $32.6 million arrangement for the incinerator’s refurbishment that landfill tipping fees would fund.
Without flow control—the county’s ability to ensure all of its solid waste goes to its landfill, where the tipping fees are charged—the plan’s finances could be threatened. Waste haulers would have the ability to choose other landfills and the county would face a revenue hole that tax dollars might have to fill—a scenario the county wants to avoid.
Barfield said Monday other concerns with the incinerator, such as those Commissioner Rick Catlin raised that morning about emissions, might always be in the air. “Next meeting it will be something else,” Barfield said. “Meeting after that it will be something else.”
On Nov. 13 the commission is expected to discuss and possibly approve a proposed contract with Covanta Energy to refurbish the old incinerator and spare the cramped landfill, which has just six years of permitted space remaining. A separate plan to expand the landfill onto an adjacent 90 acres is years away from fruition, meaning time is of the essence.
To support the $32.6 million to Covanta, the county would have to raise tipping fees at the landfill to potentially beyond $90 per ton of household waste. The county wants to make sure that the landfill has the traffic needed to keep revenues up well into the future. The current tipping fee is $59 per ton.
County Manager Chris Coudriet said Monday he was confident the county could maintain flow control per existing case law and the county’s franchise agreement that has been in place for two decades. But in case a trial court disables the arrangement, the proposed contract offers safeties.
They include a point that trash collected in the county would go exclusively to the county-owned landfill. Staffers there would separate out all of the “non-processible” waste, like wood, concrete, household appliances and scrap metal. Then they would transport the remaining waste to the incinerator, known officially as a “sustainable energy facility” as it would create sellable electricity from the burned material.
“In addition to the operational changes noted above, staff has also negotiated a new ‘Loss of Flow Control’ termination provision that limits the county’s exposure and will not impact the tip fee,” a county memo said. It would allow the county to terminate the contract if a trial court does invalidate flow control.
With those protections known in the draft contract, Barfield said his board had enough knowledge and history with the project to make an informed decision in November.
The board’s makeup stands to change dramatically after the Nov. 6 general election. Its former chairman, Ted Davis, departed in September to accept appointment to the N.C. House; Catlin is also seeking election to the House; Commissioner Jason Thompson did not clear his primary election; and Barfield is competing for re-election.
Barfield said he wanted to have a solid base in place for future boards on the solid waste management issue. But questions remain.
Catlin said he was concerned with dioxin emissions from a reactivated incinerator as he had read some environmental articles about their public health impacts.
The World Health Organization says dioxins—toxic chemical compounds cast from some industrial processes—“can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.”
It adds: “In terms of dioxin release into the environment, uncontrolled waste incinerators (solid waste and hospital waste) are often the worst culprits, due to incomplete burning.”
Catlin broached the topic because he wasn’t certain of the risk’s extent. It was, however, a question he said he wanted answered. “Dioxins are out there,” he said. “They’re dangerous, too.”
The county had previously discussed investing $1.8 million for pollution control devices at the incinerator, where mercury, lead and acid emissions were noted possible concerns.
If the county does approve Covanta for the incinerator’s reactivation, the county could pay a bit less than $12.5 million annually for operation, a price that would be fixed for 20 years.
Contact Ben Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or (910) 772-6335. On Twitter: @benbrownmedia