05/06/07 — Wayne County concerned about landfill legislation

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Wayne County concerned about landfill legislation

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 6, 2007 2:01 AM

Of all the bills being discussed in the state General Assembly this session, the one that perhaps has Wayne County officials the most nervous is the Solid Waste Management Act of 2007.

If approved, they said, it could turn out to be one of the costliest burdens on the counties other than Medicaid.

"It's going to kill the counties," county attorney Borden Parker told the commissioners Tuesday.

In the bill, which has already been modified several times, are provisions that could send the cost of landfills soaring.

Among the possible new requirements are for all new landfills to have two liners, rather than the one they have now, and construction and debris landfills also could be required to have liners.

"There has never been a noted breach of any type in all the landfills in North Carolina," Wayne County solid waste director Tim Rogers said.

He explained that with the way the soil is compacted around the seamless vinyl liner, very little water drains through Wayne County's landfill and when some does, it's pumped out through the leachate system.

Adding the second liner system, he continued, would double the cost of opening new cells. The landfill's current cell cost about $4 million.

"Their thought is if one is good, then two must be better, but that's going to cost the taxpayers of Wayne County millions of dollars," Rogers said. "(The original rules) were a great thing. They're very environmentally friendly, but if we've got a system that's working perfectly, then why change it?"

Rogers also noted that they have never had any problems with the county's old landfill in Pikeville, which was closed in the early 1990s, even though it doesn't have a liner. Well testing at both the Pikeville and Dudley sites, he explained, has never uncovered any contamination.

County Manager Lee Smith also voiced concern over proposed height and size limitations that could severely restrict Wayne County's plans for the future. Currently, he explained, the county is sitting on more than 400 acres of land at the Dudley site.

"We've done a good job of purchasing land for our landfill," he said. "We're in good shape for the next 30 to 40 years."

If the county is limited on future expansion, though, it could cut that timeline in half.

"We will have wasted millions of dollars," Smith said. "It's crazy."

But, state Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, said, the bill is intended to improve regulations with more than 600 old, unlined landfills dotting the state and mega-landfills starting to appear.

"We're getting more people coming here all the time. We need to make sure we have these safeguards in place," he said. "We need to be looking at what we can do to protect the environment. We're just trying to be cautious.

"This bill has some ways to go yet. We'll come up with something good, I think, when all is said and done."

Perhaps the biggest point of debate, though, is the proposed $2 to $2.50 per ton tax the bill would place on the counties. The extra cash, Albertson said, would be used to clean up old landfills and encourage economic development.

But Smith said, that, plus the other requirements, could eventually cause the local tipping fee to more than double from its current $23 per ton rate.

"I don't think they (state officials) understand the impact this is going to have on the counties," Smith said. "We could be looking at tipping fees going to $50 within a year."

And that he said, not only would hurt residents and local companies and hinder future economic development, it also would likely lead to an increase in illegal dumping.

But county officials are not confident that their lobbying efforts will be enough to convince legislators to vote against the proposal.

There needs to be, they said, more of an outcry from residents and the business community in every county in the state.

"Right now people just put their garbage in their trash cans and then don't think about it," Rogers said. "You double the cost of picking that up, people are going to start talking about it, but by then it'll be too late."