An April 21 work session brought New Hanover County Commissioners no closer to a permanent solution for the county’s solid waste problem.
Three proposals from two companies, Waste Industries and Waste Management, were discussed during the work session.
All three proposals would haul waste out of the county, following the board’s November 2013 vote to issue a request for proposals that included transporting waste out of the county.
The cost of the proposals was higher than commissioners expected, spurring doubt and debate.
“I’m unconvinced as to how any of these proposals save us money long term. … Yes, we can purchase time and preserve air space but at tremendous cost. That’s what I see. Those are the numbers that jump off the page to me,” said Chairman Woody White.
In an opening comment, county manager Chris Coudriet assured commissioners a thorough vetting process went into financial analyses prepared by New Hanover County finance director Lisa Wurtzbacher.
“What you have here is the best data that we have been able to attract and I think it sets the board up to help you make a decision moving forward,” Coudriet said.
The tip fee, currently $59 per ton, would see an increase under all three proposals, ranging from $61.20 to $81.32 per ton.
Further fragmenting the board was an announcement made by New Hanover County environmental management director Joe Suleyman.
Suleyman said the county is preparing engineering documents to submit to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources that could extend the landfill’s lifespan from 45 to 60 years.
Changes would steepen side slopes in the landfill to yield additional capacity and raise the height limit from 170 feet to 270 feet.
Suleyman said changes could be approved as soon as August.
White asked how the construction of a facility to divert construction and demolition materials could impact the landfill’s lifespan, which accounts for 30 percent of waste in the landfill.
Commissioner Thomas Wolfe asked how much it would cost to construct a facility. Suleyman estimated it would cost $1.8 million, which he said could be funded under the current tip fee.
Suleyman said other changes like hazardous household waste collection and curbside recycling collection have decreased landfill accumulation and garnered revenue.
“Some of the steps we’ve taken, and they’ve been albeit small steps … we’ve been able to absorb within our existing tip fee structure. Our goal, if you will, is to minimize how much we put in that landfill to begin with,” Suleyman said.
White expressed interest in permit modifications, coupled with more diversion of construction and demolition materials, as a cheaper solution.
Vice Chairwoman Beth Dawson, a vocal advocate of hauling waste, asked that long-term consequences be considered in addition to cost.
“I don’t know that it’s necessarily going to be cheaper in the long run to continue if you start adding realistic costs of what we should be putting aside. We’re talking about looking at this either for short term or long term. I’m looking for the long term,” Dawson said.
Dawson requested action for the next board meeting.
“My direction would be to look forward to the next board meeting to make a decision on what we all have been talking about for a year,” Dawson said.
White said his earlier statements made it clear he wouldn’t support these proposals as presented, adding he would be willing to hear Waste Management or Waste Industries respond to his concerns.
“As one board member, I’m certainly open to any and all other evidence to convince me otherwise,” White said.