The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners has approved spending $15 million to expand the Foxhole landfill and taken a step to reclassify waste allowed at that facility.
The board, in several 8-1 votes, agreed last week to allow ReVenture Park, a waste-to-energy facility, to name the county-owned landfill as a disposal option for its ash and unburnable wastes.
ReVenture plans to build a 667-acre, $160 million, 20-megawatt power plant in northwest Charlotte that would take the county's trash and use it to produce electricity. That electricity would likely be sold to Duke Energy.
Foxhole, a 40-acre site along U.S. 521 at Mecklenburg County's border with Lancaster and Union counties, currently holds construction waste and debris and has facilities to receive recyclable materials.
Mecklenburg County now sends about 370,000 tons of residential garbage to a privately owned landfill in Cabarrus County each year. That 370,000 tons is comprised of garbage citizens collect in their large trashcans and leave at the road for pickup. It also includes the bulk waste left for roadside pickup, such as furniture.
But Mecklenburg County's contract with the landfill in Cabarrus County expires in July 2012.
If the ReVenture project is approved at all levels, it will take all of the 370,000 tons of residential garbage from Mecklenburg County, as well as commercial waste from private vendors.
Cary Saul, director of the county's Land Use and Environmental Services Agency, says ReVenture can take in a maximum of about 560,000 tons of residential and commercial waste annually.
Saul said the proposed ReVenture waste-to-energy process would go like this:
All of the waste is taken to the ReVenture processing facility, where it's sorted. Recycleables that were put in the trash are separated from the waste and the waste that cannot be converted into energy is separated. Then the waste that can be converted to energy is taken to the gassification plant where it's used to generate electricity.
This process will yield a small percentage of ash and charred material.
"Of every ton that comes in, 78 percent will be diverted through either recycling or energy production," said Saul. "Twenty-two percent of that material would end up in a landfill."
Given the board's vote last Tuesday, that landfill could be Foxhole.
Of the 22 percent of the total trash that ends up in the landfill, 15 percent would be trash that cannot be processed and about 7 percent would be ash.
ReVenture says they're also looking for beneficial uses for the ash, says Saul, so there might be an alternative to sending it to a landfill.
For the ReVenture project to proceed, it needs a state solid-waste permit - one that can only be issued if there's a disposal option listed on the application.
But the current Foxhole landfill isn't large enough to sustain the added solid waste from ReVenture. That's why the board voted for the $15 million, 34-acre expansion.
Saul added that Foxhole would need to be expanded anyway because it only has about another year of space for construction waste and debris alone.
However, just because ReVenture lists Foxhole as a potential site on its application, doesn't guarantee that the landfill will be ReVenture's designated solid-waste disposal site, Saul said.
In order to take its residue to Foxhole landfill, ReVenture will have to come back with a formal contract that will be considered by commissioners and other boards.
"I'm not asking you to support the ReVenture project or approve the ReVenture project tonight. I'm asking you not to kill it," Saul told the board at the April 5 meeting.
The lone dissenting vote came from Commissioner Bill James, who represents the Ballantyne area and much of south Charlotte.
James said he didn't want to vote for something he didn't feel the board had completely reviewed. He said he's not opposed to the county having options but wants to get more information.
James would like to see ReVenture work out a deal with the privately owned landfill in Cabarrus County, so as to keep the solid waste - and with it the trucks, traffic, smell and noise - from the area around Foxhole.
Foxhole's history is a bumpy one.
Mecklenburg County first announced plans for the Foxhole facility in 1983 and began trying to get permits. By 1985, the South Mecklenburg Environmental Land Lovers (SMELL) had begun fighting the landfill. Around 1993, SMELL was replaced by Group Responsible for a Clean Environment (GRACE), led by Peggy Beck, who lives a half-mile from the landfill site.
In 1998, there was a "Stop the Landfill" campaign, and GRACE leaders went to Raleigh to work with state regulators to oppose Foxhole being used as a "regular landfill" for solid-waste.
The net effect of the campaign was a legal agreement between the county and GRACE that only allowed construction and demolition debris at Foxhole landfill, which opened in 2000.
That means "no birds, no smell, no vermin," said James.
The stipulation in the GRACE agreement that allowed only construction and demolition debris officially ended in June 2007, and the county is no longer legally bound to keep municipal solid waste from the landfill.
However, the agreement said that after June 2007, the county would continue to work on long-term, cost-effective alternatives for municipal solid waste disposal through the private sector.
James, who has represented the county's District 6 since 1996, was involved with the agreement brokered between GRACE and Mecklenburg County.
Soon after Foxhole opened in 2000, the Foxhole Advisory Committee was created with Peggy Beck at the helm. The committee, made up of residents living near the landfill or those who have experience with landfills, was to meet quarterly with county staff to discuss anything that would change the status quo of the site.
When the board voted last Tuesday, county staff had not yet discussed the options with the Foxhole Advisory Committee, which is why James voted against it, he said.
"It's a sign of incredible bad faith to go through a whole legal process, involve the people in Raleigh, reach a conclusion and say that you're not going to do something without discussion, and at the last minute, drop this thing," said James. "I called foul on that. It's unfair to the residents of Ballantyne."
Tim Blue, the assistant pastor of Independent Bible Baptist Church, which backs up to Foxhole, wasn't aware of the board's recent vote. He said other than some flat tires every now and then (from nails headed to the construction debris landfill), they hardly notice the landfill is there.
"They do a good job of making sure they keep it clean and under control," said Blue.
But Blue said adding solid waste to the landfill would completely change the equation.
Thirty-seven-year-old Richard Carn, his wife, Bahaiyyih, and their two children moved to Southampton Commons from near Santa Barbara, Calif. The couple's 6-year-old daughter attends Elon Park Elementary, which abuts Foxhole.
Richard Carn said the landfill wasn't even a consideration when they bought their house and the idea of it has never bothered them.
Carn said there were landfill issues where he lived in California - people were really concerned when the city stopped shipping its waste to landfills in Los Angeles and built a local landfill.
But Carn said it eventually blew over. The city built homes and a golf course around the landfill. There were some discussions about methane in the air, "and there was that little bit of stench," he said. But because it was a source of constant observation from the community and government, it was kept under control.
However, Carn said changes to Foxhole would definitely have an impact on the area.
"(If) they add debris from the trash that would definitely change things," he said.
Saul said representatives from the county's solid-waste department will discuss all the options with the Foxhole Advisory Committee at its next meeting, April 25.
"So far, all these years, it's been a great arrangement. Why change it?" said Beck. "I'm looking forward to meeting in a couple of weeks to hear what they have to say."