Buncombe County Commission

Unless Buncombe County devises a more palatable proposal, piles of construction-and-demolition debris will continue to be buried at the Buncombe County landfill — rather than being recycled.

Under threat of legal action from waste-industry behemoth Waste Management Inc., the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners unanimously decided Aug. 5 to rescind an ordinance requiring all waste haulers in the county to dump commercial and industrial waste at the landfill.

The ordinance would have paved the way for a private company to build and operate a recycling center at the landfill for such materials (see “A trashy tug of war,” June 18 Xpress). That’s because private recycling businesses need a certain volume of construction-and-demolition wastes to offset costs and make recycling financially viable.

“That’s the deal-breaker,” lamented General Services Director Bob Hunter after the meeting.

Diverting more recyclables from the county landfill would also help the county achieve its recycling goals, Hunter has said. The state requires all North Carolina counties to develop plans to reduce the volume of wastes going to their landfills.

Although most waste haulers already dump the trash they collect at the county landfill, Waste Management trucks an estimated 117,000 tons of trash each year from Buncombe County to the company’s Asheville transfer station and on to the Palmetto Landfill in South Carolina (also owned by Waste Management). The Palmetto Landfill does not recycle construction-and-demolition debris (nor does it have a composting facility), recycling experts say.

The commissioners had tentatively adopted the ordinance May 6, but because all five commissioners didn’t support it, a second vote was required for the ordinance to pass. That vote, however, was delayed May 20 — a day after an attorney hired by Waste Management complained that the requirement would have a “significant and adverse economic impact” on the Asheville transfer station, local employees and the company as a whole. The letter also claimed that the proposed changes to the county ordinance would run afoul of the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

However, Ron Townley, who provides technical assistance to local governments on solid-waste issues through the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, has told Xpress that recent federal case law showed the county was on sound legal footing with the ordinance.

With a Waste Management rep and his attorney watching from the audience, County Attorney Joe Connolly advised the commissioners to rescind the ordinance while the county takes the matter under review.

Immediately taking Connolly’s advice, Vice Chairman David Young made a motion to do so (which was seconded by Commissioner Bill Stanley). But fellow board member David Gantt wanted to know when the board would revisit the issue.

Connolly estimated that it would take three or four months to look at the issues, and the commissioners agreed that he should report back to them in four months.

“We’re not tabling this to get rid of it; we’re tabling it to work out details and to get a more comprehensive plan,” Gantt declared. “I think that really needs to be clear on the record. … We just want to do it the right way.”

But Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Ramsey (who had voted against the ordinance to begin with) told Connolly: “I’m sure you’re well aware that unless we obtain consensus of the business community — which I hope we can — I think it would be cheaper for us to do that than have to defend a lawsuit, potentially. … If this is challenged, whatever is developed, we’re better able to defend it, because I’d hate to see us lose it.”

Still hopeful

Hunter, however, isn’t ready to give up on the recycling plan even though it’s been put on hold again. He told Xpress that the county is going ahead with its application for a state permit for such a facility.

The county is also still seeking an agreement with a different private company to build a separate composting operation at the landfill. That project won’t be affected by the setback with Waste Management.

In addition, Hunter has his sights on yet another recycling goal — banning all cardboard from the landfill — though he didn’t ask commissioners to take action on that one just yet. Although Buncombe County was the first in the state to adopt a cardboard ban back in 1989, Hunter told the board, it left some wiggle room by banning only 95 percent of cardboard from entering the landfill.

In 2002, 16,000 tons of corrugated cardboard were diverted from the landfill, Hunter reports.

Slowing the waives

In a less contentious vein, the commissioners approved $20,271 worth of penalty and late-fee waivers for nine lodging establishments that missed their deadlines for remitting room taxes. To put a stop to the parade of requests coming before the board in recent months, Kelly Miller of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce briefed the commissioners on a new Tourism Development Authority policy to crack down on late-niks.

Commissioners also unanimously amended the article of the county code dealing with soil erosion and sedimentation control so it would match the county’s new hillside-development ordinance. And they unanimously issued the obligatory order to collect taxes.

In addition, board members took a gander at designs for the new North Asheville branch library on Merrimon Avenue. Amid staff reports, commissioners heard about disaster-preparedness training to prepare citizens to serve on Certified Emergency Response Teams. They also learned about the VISION dialogues on the community’s housing needs, set for September and October. And Mountain Mobility Administrator/Planner Mamie Scott presented a video promoting Mountain Mobility’s services, produced pro bono by Garry and Sally Biggers.

As part of the board’s consent agenda (which passed without discussion), the commissioners approved issuing a permit allowing the owner of the former Chemtronics property in Swannanoa (a longtime EPA Superfund site) to build a construction-and-demolition disposal area onsite. About 60 buildings on site are scheduled for demolition and subsequent disposal there.

And on a ceremonial note, the commissioners also issued proclamations promoting Asheville Ride for Kids Day (a motorcycle fund-raising effort for research on childhood brain tumors) and Workplace Partnership for Life Celebration Day (an organ-donor drive organized by the Buncombe County Medical Society).

Piloting the Airport Authority

Earlier in the afternoon, the commissioners interviewed three candidates for two vacancies on the Airport Authority: Susan Fisher, former chairwoman of the Board of Education for the Asheville City Schools; Tom Glasgow, a pilot and retired McDonald’s executive; and retired Air Force Col. Robert Morgan, a Buncombe County native famous for piloting the Memphis Belle during World War II.

During Morgan’s interview, he wowed the commissioners by revealing that he’d been allowed to fly a B-1 not long ago and had met with Gen. John P. Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, just two months ago.

“How do you not put him on?” Commissioner Patsy Keever asked Young immediately after Morgan’s interview.

“I think you have to,” Young agreed.

At the meeting, the commissioners unanimously settled on Morgan and Fisher. Young (whose own term on the Airport Authority expires in 10 months) suggested that Glasgow be asked to serve as a nonvoting member in preparation for a future appointment. But other commissioners said they doubted that could be done.

Board members also made a number of uncontested appointments to other boards. But they did not take up the issue — delayed from their previous meeting — of making appointments to the Buncombe County Planning Board. (See “Don’t come around here no more.”)

At meeting’s end, the commissioners spent about 25 minutes sequestered in Ramsey’s office for a closed session to discuss an economic-development item and a personnel matter, though they adjourned without taking action on those topics.

Meet/don’t meet

Board members decided to cancel their Aug. 19 meeting since County Manager Wanda Greene had predicted a slim agenda. The next meeting will be Sept. 2.

However, they decided to resurrect community meetings after two July Asheville Citizen-Times articles raised the issue. The commissioners plan to hold October rap sessions in the four corners of the county.

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