Landfill public hearing draws big crowd

By Caroline Klapper | Jan 18, 2013
Photo by: Caroline Klapper A large crowd gathered at the public hearing concerning permit modifications for White Oak Landfill.

While controversy over a permit that, if approved by the state, could allow the White Oak Landfill facility to increase its annual disposal rate and expand its service area to 17 other counties continues, Mary Ann Hardy is mostly worried about selling her house.

During a public hearing Wednesday evening, Hardy stood up to comment on the permit and express her unhappiness over the prospect of its approval.

“I live just below the landfill. We built our little dream home there,” she said, adding when she and her husband bought the property, they didn’t know a landfill would be built nearby.

By the time they learned of the plan, it was too late, and despite reservations and worries, they have learned to live with their “trashy” neighbor.

Now, more than 20 years later, Hardy wants out.

Her husband is physically ailing, and the couple needs to move to better accommodate him. However, selling the house has proved difficult.

“None of us can sell our property, and I can’t get a real estate agent to even list it,” she said, adding the permit modifications will only make the problem worse for those who live near White Oak Landfill. “It’s really upsetting.”

Permit changes

Currently, the 1993 landfill permit stipulates that only solid waste from Haywood County is allowed, but the permit modification requested would allow trash to be accepted from counties across Western North Carolina, including Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania and Yancey counties. The modification would also increase the amount of waste the landfill can receive from the current 79,200 tons per year to approximately 146,000 tons per year.

The public hearing was held as part of a 45-day comment period required by North Carolina Solid Waste Management rules providing for public review of and input to permit documents. The public comment period ends at 5 p.m. Feb. 15.

Western District Supervisor Jason Watkins served as the hearing officer, and he said in addition to the recorded comments made at the public hearing, oral or written statements and data can be submitted for review during the comment period. Mail written comments to Allen Gaither, North Carolina Division of Waste Management, Solid Waste Section, 2090 U.S. Highway 70, Asheville, N.C. 28778.

“Every one of these hearings is different,” Watkins said, explaining that every comment is reviewed and taken into consideration before a final decision on the permit is made. “That’s where the potential for change is, if new information comes out.”

Landfill background

The permit modifications come after a public/private agreement was made about 15 months ago between Haywood County and Santek Environmental, the company that has taken over landfill operations from the county.

In the agreement, the county turned over landfill management to Santek, which, in return, is providing needed upgrades at the site and will handle the cost of all future expansion and all post-closure costs — an amount estimated at $16 to $20 million.

County officials estimated the deal would save the county about $60 million overall and prevent an increase in rates for taxpayers.

The agreement stipulated county support for the permit modification and contained specific language guaranteeing another 30 years of use from the landfill. Even with the increased tonnage rates, Santek stated it has the ability to redesign and change operations to meet the 30-year expectation for the landfill’s capacity.

At present, the county pays Santek $127,000 a month in solid waste disposal fees, but if the permit is changed, the county shifts to paying a flat rate of $22.50 a ton once the 325 tons a year mark is met. In addition, the county will receive 5 percent of the total fees collected.

Haywood County Solid Waste Director Stephen King estimates it will take six months or so to reach the 325-ton mark if the permit is approved. At that point, commercial customers will see a dramatic drop in their rates, from $55 a ton to the $22.50 charge.

Concerned citizens

Although the room for the public hearing was full with about 30 to 40 people attending, only four got up to make a statement.

When Hardy took to the podium to share her woes over trying to sell her home, she also expressed concern about waste from other counties coming into the landfill. While she admitted Santek has been a good company to deal with and there have been improvements since the company took over landfill operations, she said it is difficult to trust that everything will continue to be done safely and correctly if the permit is approved.

“Now I’ve got to trust 18 counties,” she said. “They don’t want to dump (waste) in their county. Why here?”

Hardy’s comments were met with murmurs of agreement from much of the crowd in attendance.

Russell Teague, a resident living near White Oak Landfill, said he opposed the construction of the landfill from the beginning, but now that it’s here, he doesn’t want to see it get filled up faster with trash from other counties.

“Personally, I don’t see it lasting 30 years,” he said, adding he doesn’t think improved technology and Santek’s methods will be enough to increase the landfill’s capacity. “This should be on everybody’s mind.”

Another of Teague’s worries centered on what will happen once the landfill is full. Even if it does last 30 years, he said the $60 million in savings the county anticipates wouldn’t be enough to buy land and build a new facility.

“I think that this really needs to be looked at again,” he said. “Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul at someone else’s expense. We just can’t afford that.”

The application and draft permit is available for review by appointment from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Asheville Regional Office at 2090 U.S. Highway 70 in Swannanoa. An appointment can be made by calling 296-4500. The administrative record, including the application, fact sheet and draft permit, can be found online at Select the “Documents” link from the list on the left side and then enter 4407-MSWLF-1993 in the “ID” field and then click the “Search” button.

The timeline on finalizing the permit and sending it on for state approval depends on the number of comments to review and the amount of time it takes NCDENR to provide feedback to questions from the public, Watkins said.