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Back You are here: Home News Local and State News Local County Commissioners Turn Down Waste Incinerator Contract

County Commissioners Turn Down Waste Incinerator Contract

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners turned down a proposed contract from Covanta Energy to retrofit and manage the County WASTEC incinerator closed last year due to excessive operating cost.

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

NEW HANOVER CTY - The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners turned down a contract with New Jersey based Covanta Energy to retro-fit and operate the County's Sustainable Energy Facility (SEF).
It was determined last year the WASTEC incinerator had fallen into disrepair and due to continual shut-down periods it was costing the County around $500,000 a month. Facing continual loss of revenues, the Board of Commissioners decided to seek a contract with a private firm to operate and rehabilitate the facility. The Covanta proposal would cost $32,622,460 to retrofit the facility. It would cost $12.4 million a year for Covanta to mange the facility. The debt to the county over twenty years would be $2.2 million a year requiring no property tax revenues.
To fund rehab of the facility, the tip fee (price per ton of garbage disposed) would increase from $59 per ton to between $88 and $90 per ton.
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield made a motion to approve the contract saying previous leaders led the facility into disrepair for various political reasons.
Commissioner Rick Catlin said he felt the contract addressed all of the former issues that led the facility to the point where the county had to close it down due to years of inadequate funding for general maintenance. Catlin said his issue
focused on "flow-control" and if the County could actually force trash haulers to use the facility rather than hauling trash to other facilities outside of the County. Without flow control, the fear is haulers could starve the facility of funding by hauling to other landfills with lower tipping fees.
Chairman Ted Davis said he supports prolonging the life of the landfill and keeping WASTEC open until it cost taxpayers $500,000 a month to keep it open.
He said the question is whether the contract is the right way to go at this time to protect the taxpayers. He said, "We've got to be able to produce enough income from the tipping fees" to pay for it.
Davis asked, "What would happen for whatever reason we were not able to guarantee the flow of trash to that facility to generate these increased tipping fees to pay for that at least $14,800,000 a year expense. Who's going to pay for it?"
He said the county's environmental fund would pay for it until it ran out and then, "It's going to fall on
my back and you're back, the taxpayers. And that doesn't make me feel comfortable."
Davis said there's a cost to alternative plans if "flow-control" is challenged and could cost even more.
He said, "I don't know why we didn't go ahead and start trying to get the permit for that remaining 90 acres" and it's a long process. He said, "What if we don't get those permits... when our existing landfill runs out... we're going to be stuck with a nice facility and nowhere to go with it."
Davis said eliminating yard waste from the landfill and promoting recycling will help prolong the life of the landfill. Yard waste is already prohibited, but still makes up 8% of the waste stream.
He said prolonging the life of the landfill is most important but he has to do what he thinks will protect the taxpayers of the county. He said, "I'd be a whole lot more comfortable if we had guarantees of flow-control, permitting and if we did take over the operation ourselves we wouldn't have to increase tipping fees more".
Commissioners Catlin and Brian Berger voted with Davis against approving the contract. Commissioners Jonathan Barfield and Jason Thompson voted in favor of the contract.
The existing landfill is estimated to last another six years. If the other 90 acres are permitted, it would last around 45 years.
Covanta would have generated additional revenues by selling electricity generated from the incinerator and split revenues from recovery of ferrous metals.