After two years of planning, a heated community forum and a three-hour debate on the definition of the word “disposal,” partners of Regional Recycling Solutions are, legally, stuck between a rock and a hard place.
More than 100 people showed up for the July 8 Buncombe County Board of Adjustments meeting, causing the location of the meeting to shift from its usual home at 30 Valley St. to the downstairs conference room at 200 College St.
Neighbors of the proposed Pond Road facility arrived ready to fight for their community, wearing stickers that read, “Say no to Regional Recycling Solutions.”
Among those opposing the facility was president of Woodfin’s Curbside Management recycling center, Barry Lawson. “We’ve spent 20 years trying to educate residents and business-owners” on separating their recycling, he said. “And somebody comes in and says it’s OK to throw it all into one pile.”
It’s undoing years of our work, he continued.
Implementing practices different than the standard blue-bin-collections, RRS managing partner Ken Allison said in June that he believes his vision for a multistream system is what’s causing the misconception of a landfill-like facility.
But many neighbors and skeptics, including Lawson, are convinced that Allison’s “European technology” is nothing more than a dirty MRF — a dirty material recovery facility, which is looked down upon by many waste management organizations.
But, at a community forum hosted by RRS on May 26, Allison remained adamant that his facility is not a dirty MRF — and that, because those facilities are generally considered outdated and a poor investment, the partners at RRS would not be looking into this type of technology.
However, when it was time on the agenda for the RRS debate, Attorney for the Board of Adjustments Curt Euler explained to the crowd that this particular item would be broken into two parts: a legal debate, questioning the ability of the board to vote on this topic, and a public hearing for the neighbors to voice their community concerns.
During part one, Euler explained, both sides’ attorneys would debate the extent of the board’s legal authority — and then the board would vote either for or against their own authority to grant or approve the facility’s permit. Part two, he continued, may not be necessary following the decision made in part one.
“I know a lot of you are here to speak,” he said. “But we may not get there today.”
The crowd began to boo, and Euler reminded the audience to respect the speakers and treat the meeting as if it were a courtroom.
Attorney Derek Allen, hired by the Friends and Farmers for a Safe Pond Road to voice the opposition, explained that the county board “must reject the application,” as, by county standards, the application is incomplete without first being approved by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
On the other hand, RRS cannot gain approval from the NCDENR without first receiving approval from the county — trapping the company in a paradoxical loop of permitting problems.
The catch-22 stems from vague wording in the county’s zoning ordinance and RRS’ plans to house a waste transfer station at the front of the recycling facility — sorting out nonrecyclable materials and transferring them to a landfill.
Defined by the ordinance, a solid waste facility is any land, personnel and/or equipment in the management of solid waste, including a transfer station, landfill or materials recovery facility.
Later, it reads: “All solid waste management facilities used for the disposal of solid waste shall meet the requirements and specifications of [DENR],” and must submit a “set of approved plans … along with the application for the conditional use permit.”
The debate went back and forth between Allen and RRS’ attorney David Matney, who insisted that, because of the wording, the NCDENR requirements only apply to facilities that are used for the actual disposal of solid waste — like landfills — not transfer stations.
Nothing would be disposed of at the RRS site, he stated. The facility is for sifting through waste, filtering out the recyclable materials and sending the rest to the appropriate facility. Without disposing of any materials on site, the facility does not need prior approval from the DENR, Matney said.
Allen retorted, “If the zoning ordinance is meant to apply only to landfills, then it should say ‘landfills’ rather than ‘solid waste management facilities.'”
Typing “disposal” into the search bar on his laptop, Euler read aloud definitions of the word from two different online dictionary sites. “According to Google,” he said, as many laughed, “it means the act or process of throwing away or getting rid of something.”
And after much debate, the board had to make a decision: renounce their legal authority over the conditional use permit without prior DENR approval, as implied in the zoning ordinance, or interpret “disposal” to mean specifically “landfill” and move forward with the application — calling forward the 100 or so members of the public to argue for or against the application’s approval.
In the end, the vote was unanimous: the Buncombe County Board of Adjustments cannot vote on RRS’ conditional use permit without first receiving approval from DENR — upholding the words, as they’re written, in the county ordinance.
And what does that mean for RRS? “Either party has an opportunity under the law to appeal [the board’s] order to a superior court,” Euler explains. “Ultimately, it would be up to a superior court to decide.”
But, as far as a company getting stuck in neither-approval-nor-denial limbo, “there is definitely a problem there,” he continues. “From an employee-standpoint, we need to fix it. We need to be clear about what we’re doing.”
Whether an amendment to the ordinance calling for more specific wording would positively or negatively affect RRS’ application, he says he doesn’t know.
But, to get to that point, “Someone, either on staff, the planning board or commissioners, would need to say, ‘We need to amend this and fix this problem.’ Then, it will go to the planning board, where they will make a decision. And, ultimately, it will go to the county commission” for final approval.