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County OKs multi-state co. to take over private landfill franchise

Details on potential expansion yet to be negotiated

Alamance County’s board of commissioners has decided – in principle – to let an out-of-town company take over a local firm’s franchise to operate a landfill for construction and demolition debris near the unincorporated community of Snow Camp.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, the board of commissioners gave a unanimous nod to the proposed transfer of this franchise from Coble’s Sandrock to a Charlotte-based multi-state corporation called Meridian Waste. The board also instructed the county’s management to negotiate the particulars of a new agreement with Meridian that, if the company gets its druthers, could include a 150-ton increase in the daily tonnage allowed at the site as well as a sixteen-fold expansion of the facility’s service area.

The commissioners ultimately agreed to extend this franchise to Meridian at the behest of Alamance County’s attorney Rik Stevens, who informed them that this transfer is merely the first stage of Meridian’s proposed takeover of Coble’s Sandrock facility at 5833 Foster Store Road, Liberty.

“What we’re asking for tonight is that you pass the franchise ordinance,” he told the county’s five-member governing board, “and allow the manager to negotiate with Meridian to lay out the specific details of the contract.”

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The county attorney added that the commissioners will eventually be asked to render a second decision to confirm this franchise agreement, which he stressed is where they’ll be bedeviled by the details of Meridian’s proposal.

Stevens nevertheless acknowledged that Meridian has also submitted some potential parameters for this contract. Among other things, the company envisions a fourfold increase in the landfill’s service radius from 25 to 100 miles. This prospective change would effectively enlarge the site’s service area 16 times – from 625 to 10,000 square miles, encompassing much of North Carolina’s Piedmont along with a wide swath of southern Virginia to boot.

Meridian has also suggested an increase in the landfill’s maximum daily volume from 600 to 750 tons. This seemingly modest adjustment of 25 percent would nevertheless dwarf the 40 to 50 tons a day cited by the facility’s longtime proprietor Kent Coble – far short of the site’s current maximum daily allowance of 600 tons. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Meridian informed the commissioners that his company expects to ramp up the site’s volume to the suggested threshold of 750 tons within just a couple of years.

The commissioners ultimately heard more about Meridian’s plans for this site from the company’s chief operating officer Dave Lavender as well as its marketing chief Mary O’Brien.

Mary O’Brien and Dave Lavender outlined the plans for expansion that Meridian Waste has for the Coble Sandrock landfill.

Prior to Tuesday’s decision, Lavender addressed the county’s governing board about the potential impact that his company’s vision would have for Coble’s existing facility. The company’s C.O.O. conceded that the proposed increases in service area and tonnage would, indeed, have an impact on the site’s operations. He insisted, however, that the change would benefit his company’s clients as well as the community at large.

“We want to be able to provide this service for the county as it grows,” Lavender argued.

“Landfills are harder and harder to come by right now, and with the airspace we have at this site, we’re going to be able to take care of Alamance County for a very long time…It’s vital…that’s one of the reasons for the increase in the tonnage daily.”

Lavender went on to contend that the facility’s traffic may be “very close” to “a wash” in spite of the increase in volume as large tractor trailers replace the small “roll-out trucks” which currently frequent the site.

Many of Lavender’s themes were later enlarged by his fellow executive O’Brien, who also tried to offer the county’s leaders some peace of mind about the company’s track record as a good neighbor.

“We make sure we bring the community to all of our facilities,” she assured the commissioners. “If we have a facility here in Alamance County, we’re going to do the same things we do at all of our facilities. At least once a year, we invite the community, we feed them, we have activities, we have games, and we definitely do tours.”

O’Brien went on to suggest that, as part of the forthcoming contract negotiations with Meridian, the county’s administrators could extract a hike in the “host fee” of $1 a ton that it presently receives from Coble’s operation. She argued that these funds could be used for roadwork, public safety, or anything else that the commissioners deem worthy. O’Brien also emphasized that her company’s activities will be subject to both state and federal regulations, which she insisted will ensure that they coexist harmoniously with the surrounding community.

Yet, these sundry reassurances fell a bit short with commissioner Pam Thompson, who remained anxious about the potential wear and tear on the roads in the county’s southwestern reaches.

“You’re increasing this and really stretching it out,” she reminded the company’s representatives, “and I can only imagine the traffic that’s going to be out there.”

Meanwhile, commissioner Craig Turner declared his own lingering misgivings about both the company’s proposed tonnage increase and the prospect of an expanded service area.

But perhaps the most scathing response to company’s pitch came from Richard Hill, the county’s solid waste director, who also oversees the county’s own landfill operations near Saxapahaw.

Assistant county manager Bruce Walker and county attorney Rik Stevens

Among other things, Hill took issue with the company’s apparent attempts to minimize its proposed increase in volume. He pointed out that, based on Coble’s current load of 40 to 50 tons a day, the company’s prospective intake of 750 tons would be quite staggering – larger even than the 500 tons a day that arrive at the county’s own landfill. Hill also took umbrage with the repeated assertions that Meridian’s plans are somehow “necessary” or “vital” to Alamance County’s success.

“I heard a lot of you people say it’s needed in the county. I don’t think so,” he shot back. “We can take all the C&D [or construction and demolition debris] at the [county’s] landfill.

“I’m not here to beat up Meridian,” he added. “We at the landfill love your existence because it takes some the burden off of us. But I know there are problems down the road…and I want to make sure that this board and Meridian ask the right questions.”

In the meantime, the commissioners were brought back around to the matter at hand by Frank Longest, a local attorney who introduced himself as a long-time legal counsel for Coble.

Burlington attorney Frank Longest, representing Coble Sandrock

“My client would like to retire,” Longest reminded the commissioners, “and what we would like is for the county to approve Meridian so the second stage [of contractual negotiations] can go forward.

“It’s hard to believe that Meridian doesn’t qualify as a franchisee of Alamance County,” he added. “They’ve got the experience. They’ve got the knowhow. They’ve got the expertise, and they’ve done it plenty of places. I think that for the good of Alamance County…You’ve got to pick Meridian.”

The commissioners went on to accept the company as a new franchisee by a margin of 5-to-0.

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