Landfill plan stirs protests in Scotland County
The current landfill plan is starting to stir protests in Scotland County, NC.
Landfill plan stirs protests in Scotland County
By Jennifer Calhoun
LAURINBURG - Eddie Carmichael leaned across the cab of his truck and pointed to rows of wheat beside the road.
"That will all be replaced with a 240-foot-tall mountain of trash," said Carmichael, who co-owns nearby Carmichael Farms, a large-scale vegetable farming operation near Laurinburg.
Carmichael is concerned about a proposed 240-acre landfill that could bring in as much as 3,000 tons of trash a day.
Some Scotland County leaders say the landfill would mean $2 million to $3 million in revenue and give taxpayers a break on solid waste disposal fees.
Others fear the county could become a dumping ground for the region's trash and worry that county leaders seeking re-election in May's primary will dodge the landfill issue until elections are over.
Carmichael is a seventh-generation farmer whose family history in the county dates to 1797, he said.
For years, the family farmed tobacco and other row crops. But in 2001, Eddie Carmichael decided to do something a little different: spinach and collards.
The family was approached about growing the vegetables because of the irrigation system Carmichael's father and uncle had installed the year before.
It was a tough move - there were plenty of things to learn, and getting into the vegetable business is considered difficult for farmers, Carmichael said.
But as fuel costs climb and water becomes more precious in California - where many vegetables are grown - processing plants in the East have started seeking out farmers closer to them, Carmichael said.
Once the family made the transition, they worked hard - putting in long hours, working nights and even harvesting during a hurricane.
Now, the farm produces 7 percent of the nation's frozen and canned spinach and feeds roughly 20 million people, Carmichael said.
"It's hard work," he said. "But feeding so many people, you think you're doing something there."
Carmichael first heard about the landfill earlier this year when County Manager Kevin Patterson presented the idea during a meeting of the county Board of Commissioners.
Patterson said commissioners had asked two years earlier whether it was feasible to build a landfill for the purpose of generating revenue for the county.
The idea was to allow a private waste management company to build a landfill on top of a closed landfill at Old Maxton and Patterson roads, about three miles southeast of Laurinburg. The site would encompass about 600 acres, which would include about 240 acres of landfill and a buffer area, Patterson said.
The landfill would take in trash from other counties in North Carolina and South Carolina, said board Chairman J.D. Willis.
The revenue could pay for the $2 million problem of cleaning up and monitoring the county's construction and demolition landfill, which is expected to close in eight years, Willis said.
Having a big landfill locally could keep residents' and business owners' dumping fees down and keep the county from having to subsidize them, Willis said.
The county has been using profits from the construction landfill to pay for a recent increase in tipping fees, which amounts to an extra $4.10 per ton, Willis said.
"The money we have been making off the (construction) landfill has been going to cover costs so we wouldn't have to raise tipping fees for the largest customer, which is the city of Laurinburg," Willis said.
The proposed landfill would take about 8 1/2acres of the Carmichael family's land, including the most important part of vegetable farming - the irrigation well.
Worse than that, Carmichael said, would be the birds hovering around the landfill that could destroy the crops.
"We'd lose our contract," he said. "They'd turn it down because of animal feces."
Losing the vegetable-growing contract would drastically change the family's farming operation, he said.
They'd probably have to return to farming nonfood crops, he said, which would mean laying off most of the farm's 28 full-time workers.
"We're fighting for our livelihood and the livelihoods of our workers," he said.
"We've just been down here doing our own thing. But this is forcing us to come out and say, 'Look, this is what you're messing up out here.' "
The idea of bringing a regional landfill to Scotland County is not new.
In 2006, the Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 to work with a privately owned waste management company to build a landfill in the county, despite protests from residents and a petition signed by 3,000 people opposing it.
The landfill proposed in 2006 would have been much larger and would have brought in about $4 million in revenue a year.
It would have been built on 1,000 to 2,000 acres and would have accepted as much as 5,000 tons of trash per day from several states. It was expected to be located near the Richmond County line.
But the landfill proposal came to a halt in August 2006 when the General Assembly voted to stop issuing permits for large landfills for a year.
During that time, the state planned to study solid waste disposal issues and figure out whether current regulations were adequate.
The moratorium was lifted Aug. 1, 2007, according to a spokeswoman for the state Division of Waste Management.
Willis, who voted in favor of the 2006 proposal, said he's taken the majority of hits from landfill opponents.
He said he won't make a decision on the recent landfill proposal until he has more information.
Willis said the board would have to sit down with waste management companies and hammer out details.
"How in the Sam Hill are we going to vote for or against something when we don't have all the facts and answers together?" he asked. "I took the heat before, but I am not taking the heat on this. Whatever's done will be a board decision, and we will have to have all our facts in order before we make a decision."
But for the residents opposed to the landfill, that answer is not good enough.
During a candidates' forum in Laurinburg earlier this month, one resident asked each county commissioner candidate to state - point blank - whether he would vote yes or no on building a landfill.
The three incumbents - Betty Blue Gholston, Guy McCook and Willis - hedged on their answers, saying they needed more information about the landfill before deciding.
The three other candidates - John Cooley, Carol McCall and Daniel Jermaine Dockery - said they would vote against building a landfill.
Some local leaders who had been in favor of the 2006 landfill proposal are balking at the new proposal.
Laurinburg Mayor Matthew Block, who was in favor of the previous proposal, said the new one wouldn't be good for the county - or the city.
"(The 2006 proposal) was a very different thing," he said. "It was a lot more lucrative for the county and a lot more out of the way. I don't know all the details for this proposed landfill, but my initial feeling on it is that things like this, which are wildly unpopular with the populace, could only be considered if there are huge monetary benefits. It doesn't sound like there's going to be with this one."
Commissioner John Alford also is against the new proposal.
Alford voted in favor of moving forward with the 2006 landfill, but he said the new one is in the wrong place.
"We're in the process of developing the (nearby) Laurinburg-Maxton Airport," he said. "We're trying to make it grow for economic development. I know for a fact that planning a landfill would make it a hard sell. I'm concerned about the safety with the birds flying around. We are all aware what they can do to a plane."
It's not just about his farm or his employees, he said. It's about developing the county in the right way.
If his business continues to grow and other farmers get into the vegetable-farming action, a vegetable processing plant could move in.
And if the airport moves forward, then other things could come, Carmichael said.
"It's like they're throwing their hands up and saying, 'We can't get any industry here, let's build a dump,' " he said. "They're throwing the county in the trash."
Content received from: Scotland County Of Tomorrow, http://nomegadump.org