County board wants out of HB 56

By Jeff Linville -

DOBSON — County commissioners are pleading with state officials about a law passed during the fall that negatively affects the local landfill.

The Surry County Board of Commissioners approved a letter this week that will be sent to state senators and representatives — including Rep. Sarah Stevens and Sen. Shirley Randleman — about House Bill 56, which was voted into law at the start of October, even over the veto of Gov. Roy Cooper.

That bill, in part, could allow businesses within the county to take their refuse elsewhere, thus hurting the revenue stream needed to keep the landfill operating efficiently.

The letter starts off saying that the county board “desires to communicate the facts related to the negative impact of House Bill 56 on the future operations of the Surry County landfill.”

After giving some background on this area, the letter concludes on municipal solid-waste landfills, “The portion of HB 56 applicable to MSWLFs should be repealed, or Surry County’s landfill should be excepted from the MSWLF regulation.”

At the mid-September meeting, County Manager Chris Knopf brought up the passing of HB 56 to the commissioners. The board hadn’t heard of the bill and wondered how it had sneaked up on counties without some kind of warning from a group like the N.C. Association of County Commissioners.

House Bill 56 was labeled by some politicians as an environment-friendly move to protect water quality in North Carolina. The bill includes $435,000 to help treat a chemical pollutant called GenX in the Cape Fear River.

GenX is a chemical in use since 2009 to make Teflon and other non-stick products.

In making the veto on Sept. 19, Cooper said HB 56 “fails to address the concerns of families in the Cape Fear region and does nothing to protect drinking water statewide going forward. … And it unnecessarily rolls back other environmental protections for landfills, river basins and our beaches.”

Knopf pointed out some of the issues for landfills in the law to the board.

For example, one passage states that a local government can only require that all solid waste in its region go to its landfill if one of a handful of conditions is met, such as needing to pay off debt owed for landfill operations or if the government body has a contract already in place with a private service.

Imagine if businesses could just decide to haul their garbage to another county offering a cheaper rate, Knopf said. This could harm the landfill’s operating budget.

Surry County has a lot of money invested in the landfill already, Commissioner Van Tucker said at the time. Stokes and Yadkin counties don’t have their own landfills, so they don’t have that money invested, but Surry does.

The letter states, “Surry County began planning its four-cell municipal solid-waste landfill in 1995. … Surry County has developed two of four planned cells at a cost of approximately $5.4 million. …The MSWLF has been in use since 1998 with no significant violations of the state’s environmental regulations.”

It goes on to say, “Annually the landfill receives almost 54,000 tons of solid waste generated from Surry County residents and businesses located within the county. The landfill division of the Surry County Department of Public Works has 12 full-time employees, 67 part-time employees and operates 13 convenience centers for solid-waste collection and recycling activities.”

The letter also mentions a side benefit that Chairman Eddie Harris brought up in September.

“Surry County implemented a methane gas reclamation project in 2012 at the landfill that creates electricity for over 500 homes and structures in the Bannertown community. The gas reclamation effort earns $25,000/year.”

The letter notes that the county acquired 97 acres in 2007 for a planned expansion of the landfill starting next year at a cost of $6 million. HB 56 could cause some uncertainties that make the county unable to accurately forecast revenues.

“HB 56 allows private sector competition, on a tip-fee comparison, when local governments apply to the Local Government Commission for approval to issue debt related to landfills,” the letter states. The law doesn’t allow the county to require that county-generated waste go to the landfill “which will likely have a detrimental effect on an important revenue stream that supports the landfill.”

“Private sector competition may be a good idea where you have local governments with historically high costs and poor management practices,” the letter says. “Surry County is neither high cost nor poorly managed. … Passage of HB 56 penalizes Surry County for its foresight and long-term planning.”

The board voted unanimously in support of the letter.

By Jeff Linville

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.