Barfield: Incinerator’s life could extend well beyond initial contract is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Refurbishing New Hanover County’s defunct incinerator, to burn off trash and save landfill space, could give it “40, 50, even 70 years” of life, the county commission’s chairman said in a newsletter Thursday.

“Some of you have asked me, ‘Won’t the facility wear out by the end of the contract?’ Nothing lasts forever, especially if you don’t spend the money to properly maintain it,” Chairman Jonathan Barfield wrote.

But with Covanta Energy—the company eyed to overhaul the incinerator—budgeting $5 million a year for capital expenditures, proper maintenance is part of the plan. That dollar amount, he added, is double what the county spent when it ran the facility.

He added the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission would require Covanta to show the incinerator’s use would extend beyond the debt term.

So when the 20-year contract with Covanta (which the commission has not yet approved) reaches its end, “we will have a viable facility that we can continue to use and maintain until there is a solution that diverts 100 percent of the waste stream. With continued use, this facility will allow us to expand the life of our landfill and serve the long-term needs of our community.”

The county commission may discuss the contract at its Nov. 13 meeting, which will mark the board’s last gathering under its current makeup per the election ahead. The board has an agenda review meeting scheduled for Nov. 8.

The county’s landfill has a mere six years of permitted space remaining; a plan to expand the dump onto an adjacent 90 acres has years of work ahead and may slow further with the discovery of a rare grass on site.

An environmental consultant found patches of the uncommon big threeawn grass there, and the county says it might have to be relocated. Otherwise, the county would have to create a new habitat elsewhere on the property.

The greater issue, though, is what to do about trash. With the current dump swelling near capacity the county has proposed to reactivate its incinerator—a “sustainable energy facility,” officially—and burn off a large portion of the waste stream. The Covanta proposal the county has worked with would cost $32.6 million for the refurbishment, the price covered by increased landfill tipping fees.

The company would operate the incinerator for $12.5 million a year. County officials have said the plan would double the life of available landfill space; for instance, the expansion site could possibly accommodate 90 years of trash.

There are some issues to iron, though. For one, Commissioner Rick Catlin has expressed concern over dioxin emissions from the incinerator. At a county commission meeting in October he asked staff to examine any risks.

Dioxins are toxic chemical compounds cast from some industrial burning processes. “In terms of dioxin release into the environment, uncontrolled waste incinerators … are often the worst culprits,” according to the World Health Organization.

But Barfield Thursday said through pollution control installations at the incinerator—worth about $1.8 million—the county could halve permitted emissions levels.

“Not only will we comply with the new permit requirements, we will continue to seek ways to further reduce the emissions,” said Barfield. “But that is nothing new—as the facility has a long history of operating below permitted levels.

“If this is truly a community concern,” he added, “then we can also all take responsibility for preventing dioxins from entering the waste stream in the first place.”

To that end he advised against residents throwing hazardous waste or recyclables into their trash cans.

Contact Ben Brown at or (910) 772-6335. On Twitter: @benbrownmedia