Friday, February 23, 2024

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Commissioners OK new deal to ramp up private landfill, 3-2

Alamance County’s commissioners have tentatively accepted a new franchise agreement with an interstate company that plans to acquire a locally-owned landfill for construction and demolition debris in the southern part of the county.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, the commissioners voted 3-to-2 in favor of this new arrangement with Meridian Waste, which intends to use its county-approved franchise to take over the operations of Coble’s Sandrock. The commissioners also gave their consent to Meridian’s proposed purchase of Coble’s existing facility by the same 3-to-2 margin.

Under state law, the commissioners must still confirm this agreement “on second reading” before Meridian’s franchise can formally take effect. But the county’s governing board is not obligated to hold any additional votes on the landfill’s proposed sale, which was cleared the moment that it obtained the go-ahead from a majority of the board’s members.

If it is, indeed, finalized by a subsequent vote of the board, Meridian’s new franchise would allow this multi-state corporation to greatly expand the operations of the modest dump for construction and demolition debris that Kent Coble has operated for decades at 5833 Foster Store Road. According to Frank Longest, an attorney for the facility’s long-time proprietor, this change will ultimately be a blessing for everybody concerned.

Frank Longest

“Meridian has the wherewithal to keep this landfill going…They have the ability to expand the current site – and to put the money into that site for the expansion…They can make money; the county makes money, and it provides a service for the community as a whole.”

– Frank Longest, attorney for Kent Coble, who has obtained the county’s blessing to sell his C&D landfill to Meridian Waste

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“Meridian has the wherewithal to keep this landfill going,” Longest explained before the commissioners narrowly signed off on the proposed franchise. “That’s what Meridian brings to the table. They have the ability to expand the current site – and to put the money into that site for the expansion…They can make money; the county makes money, and it provides a service for the community as a whole.”

Under the particulars of this deal, Meridian will be able to truck in waste from a service area of 26 counties – as opposed the 25 mile radius that hems in most of Coble’s deliveries. The new franchise would retain the same daily load of 600 tons that Coble can theoretically accept under its own extant arrangement. But while Coble’s actual tonnage amounts to a mere fraction of this permitted volume, Meridian expects to bump up against the contractual limit within a couple of years of taking over Coble’s Sandrock.

In exchange for the county’s permission to operate under these terms, Meridian has pledged to put a “host fee” of $1 into the county’s general fund for every ton of waste it accepts. The company has also promised that its annual pay-in will total at least $50,000 during its first year at the wheel, regardless of how much business it does in that 12-month period.

Meridian’s guaranteed minimum would subsequently go up in increments of $25,000 a year until it reaches a plateau of $100,000 by year three. Even so the company’s representatives insist that their annual payout ought to be closer to $219,000 – the maximum possible given an average daily haul of 600 tons.


A new deal
The franchise agreement that Meridian presented on Monday wasn’t the first such arrangement that the company has proffered to the county’s governing board. Earlier this year, the firm’s representatives pitched a proposal that would’ve increased the landfill’s daily load from 600 to 750 tons while allowing it to truck in waste from locations within a 100 mile radius that covered portions of both North Carolina and Virginia.

The commissioners initially voted to accept Meridian as a potential franchisee when the company’s plans for Coble’s Sandrock were first presented to them in mid January. But the board declined to take any action at all on the actual franchise due to some lingering concerns among most of its members about both the proposed volume of waste and the wide area from which it would originate.

The commissioners’ chilly response when they were asked to sign off on this franchise in March effectively condemned Meridian’s original plans to the scrap heap. So, over the next several months, the company’s representatives contacted the county’s legal department and eventually came up with the proposal that the commissioners tentatively accepted on Monday.

That evening, Mary O’Brien, an executive with Meridian Waste, appeared before the commissioners to reassure them about her company’s good intentions for Kent Coble’s family business. O’Brien told the county’s elected leaders that, under the terms of the proposed franchise agreement, Meridian will devote resources to landscaping and litter cleanup around the landfill’s perimeter. She also promised that the company would extend a discount to Alamance County residents, and she offered the county a price break of its own on the disposal of storm debris.

Mary O’Brien

“Can we operate under the existing franchise? Sure, we can operate under it. But we think this is a better business deal for the county to adopt the new franchise agreement. You get more for the change that is coming.”

– Mary O’Brien of Meridian Waste, making her case for a new franchise agreement to ramp up operations at Coble’s old landfill

O’Brien also touted Meridian’s penchant for public events – recalling a recent festival in Wendell where she said at least 250 people recently enjoyed guided “hayride” tours of a landfill that her company owns in that suburb of Raleigh.

“We see these things as benefits that don’t exist under the current franchise,” she added. “Can we operate under the existing franchise? Sure, we can operate under it. But we think this is a better business deal for the county to adopt the new franchise agreement. You get more for the change that is coming.”


What a dump!
O’Brien told the commissioners that her company’s landfill will provide a final resting place for the mountains of concrete and other debris that are produced by the booming construction trade in this part of the state. She warned that much of this waste could otherwise end up at Alamance County’s own landfill, which she noted is more costly to operate because it must accommodate a much wider variety of refuse.

Although Meridian hopes to significantly expand the current capacity of Coble’s facility, O’Brien insisted that her company’s operations will be more constrained than Coble’s in some key respects. The company’s spokeswoman noted, for instance, that while Coble’s service area officially extends over a radius of 25 miles, his franchise agreement also allows him to serve a revolving roster of 25 named customers who may be located anywhere in the world.

O’Brien stressed that, in contrast to Coble’s “grandfathered list,” that her company’s 26-county service area is limited to locations within North Carolina. She also compared this proposed zone to Meridian’s original proposal, which would’ve allowed waste to roll in from as far as 100 miles away – from customers in both North Carolina and parts of Virginia.

O’Brien’s assertions were borne out by Alamance County’s attorney Rik Stevens, who noted that Coble already has the authority to do much of what Meridian has proposed in its franchise agreement. He informed the commissioners that there’s nothing to stop the landfill’s current proprietor from hiring someone to take over the reins of his business and ramping up intake to a 600 tons a day.

“We are presently where that could happen overnight even without an ownership change,” he insisted.

O’Brien also tried to address the potential impact of her company’s plans on the rural, state-maintained roads that serve the southern part of the county.

The capacity of these byways had previously given some pause to the commissioners as they had mulled over Meridian’s original proposal for Coble’s Sandrock in March. In order to assuage their anxiety, O’Brien declared that, by reducing its proposed volume from 750 to 600 tons a day, her company has effectively lowered the anticipated truck volume from 65 to 52 vehicles over and above those that currently serve Coble.

In addition to O’Brien’s assurances, Dave Mills, a traffic engineer in Meridian’s employ, confirmed that, even under the higher volume of 750 tons a day, the facility was projected to cause “little to no delay” in traffic.


A mixed verdict
Meridian’s proposal went over well enough with John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, as well as the board’s vice chairman Steve Carter. They were joined in their support for the franchise agreement by commissioner Craig Turner, who saw the deal on the table as an improvement over Coble’s existing arrangement.

“Because this contract is more restrictive than what Coble currently has a right to do, I support it,” he said.

But the company’s pitch didn’t go down nearly as easily with the other two members of Alamance County’s governing board.

Commissioner Bill Lashley was put off by several aspects of Meridian’s proposed arrangement with the county. At one point, Lashley even butted heads with O’Brien over the repeated references that she and other presenters had made to the 600-ton allowance as a “maximum.” Lashley observed that, if intake is, indeed, limited to 600 tons a day, and the landfill is slated to be closed on Sunday, it couldn’t possibly bring in 219,000 tons a year as the company’s representatives had claimed. In response, O’Brien pointed out that the 600-ton figure isn’t a hard-and-fast cap so much as a daily average given its maximum intake over the course of a year.

Meridian’s plans also raised some misgivings for commissioner Pam Thompson, who fretted that the company’s activities would eat into the “profits” of Alamance County’s own landfill. To put Thompson at ease, assistant county manager Bruce Walker declared that business is expected to remain quite brisk at the publicly-owned waste disposal complex near Saxapahaw.

“We’re at record levels now, and we anticipate it continuing,” he said, adding that the county’s objective is not to make money through this facility. “The mantra has been to prolong the life of the landfill for the benefit of the residents of Alamance County.”

Yet, Thompson remained undeterred in her objections to the proposed franchise’s agreement.

“It’s just how you feel personally,” she asserted, “and I just don’t want that influx of more stuff in that very small community.”

County commissioner Bill Lashley

“I don’t know how it is prudent to take people’s garbage from 20 counties away and stick it in my county. . . That is not what our county should be doing.”

– county commissioner Bill Lashley

Meridian’s public relations offensive was, likewise, unable to overcome Lashley’s resistance.
“I don’t know how it is prudent to take people’s garbage from 20 counties away and stick it in my county,” he declared. “That is not what our county should be doing.”

In the end, Lashley and Thompson voted against both the landfill’s sale to Meridian as well as the company’s proposed franchise agreement. The votes of Paisley, Carter, and Turner nevertheless carried these items, although the franchise agreement will still need to obtain a second nod from a majority of the commissioners when it comes up for its second reading next month.

See story on a sidebar discussion from former commissioner Sam Powell about a “Southern Loop” or “Southern bypass” in far southern Alamance County:

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