The town of Pilot Mountain apparently doesn’t have the legal authority to satisfy some citizen gripes.
Pilot Mountain town government released a statement on Tuesday addressing multiple months-old nuisance complaints against the town’s New River Tire Recycling facility, many dating back into the spring. In essence, the statement said the facility is meeting all applicable state and federal regulations, and state law doesn’t allow a local government to impose stricter environmental regulations.
In May 2018, Pilot’s Board of Commissioners received a number of complaints from residents in the area around the tire recycling facility. These residents complained of loud noises, smells, mosquitoes and particulate matter settling on their property.
Initially, a public hearing was scheduled for June 19. In a two-minute special meeting on June 4, that public hearing was abruptly canceled.
“I don’t know when it will be, but it won’t be on June 19,” Town Manager Michael Boaz said at the time.
When the board returned from closed session after their most recent meeting on Nov. 26 — six months after the initial complaints were raised — the board directed staff to prepare a statement regarding issues with the New River Tire location which had prompted the complaints to town hall.
The town manager said then, “That statement is forthcoming.”
He released the statement on Tuesday.
“This has been kicking around since the last board meeting. It rolled off the top of the to-do list,” Boaz said.
Boaz said he and town attorney Ed Woltz had prepared the statement, and the board had approved a draft and approved its release.
“The commissioners directed town staff to engage outside counsel to investigate the town’s best course of action to address these concerns,” read the statement. “The town hired the Winston-Salem firm of Bell Davis & Pitt to assist. Over the past several months, attorneys from Bell, Davis, and Pitt researched the laws governing tire recycling facilities in North Carolina, town zoning and nuisance ordinances, and the environmental permit that was issued to New River Tire Recycling by NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
According to the statement, that research concluded:
• N.C. law prohibits the town from adopting environmental regulations that are more stringent than state and federal regulations.
• New River Tire Recycling has a valid permit to operate the facility from DEQ that expires in 2019.
• New River Tire Recycling has a valid zoning permit from the Town of Pilot Mountain.
• Periodic inspections are required by DEQ personnel and those inspections have been occurring on a regular basis.
• The Surry County Fire Marshal also conducts periodic inspections of the facility.
• Violations found during these inspections have been addressed to the satisfaction of regulators.
• Ordinances that the town may adopt regarding the disposal of scrap tires will be preempted by the N.C. Scrap Tire Disposal Act.
Attorneys from Bell Davis & Pitt informed the board that it has limited options to adequately address citizen concerns regarding New River Tire Recycling. They recommended that the board instruct town staff to continue to work with DEQ and the fire marshal to confirm that they continue to regularly inspect the facility to ensure that violations are corrected in a safe and timely manner.
While the town’s options are limited, local residents may have a private cause of action against the tire facility if the company’s actions have resulted in nuisance or damaged residents’ health or property. Residents should consult their private attorneys for advice and counsel in this area. In some situations Legal Aid of Winston-Salem may be able to help, concluded the statement.
“The health and welfare of our citizens is our prime consideration,” said Mayor Evan Cockerham. “We didn’t know what our rights are, but now we know our rights are somewhat limited. We responded as vigorously as we could to citizen’s complaints.”
Cockerham added that one bright side was that the town had been able to get the various agencies involved (DEQ and the fire marshal’s office) talking, something that had not always happened before, and that the town would get them to come again and address issues as they arose.
“We’ll continue working with them as much as we can. If individuals want to make complaints, we’ll put them in touch with the proper agencies to address their concerns.”
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.