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Passionate public hearing on recycling sorting plant in Haywood draws masses

fr recyclingMore than 160 people packed a heated public hearing over a proposed recycling sorting facility in Haywood County Monday night, pleading with county commissioners to turn down the project.

“I would sincerely hate to see Beaverdam turn into anything more than it is now, which is a beautiful valley,” said Robyn Rice Gillis.

The public hearing drew a wide cross section of the Beaverdam community. The issue has brought together demographics that rarely intersect in Haywood County. Natives with roots going back generations and newcomers, hippy environmentalists and staunch conservatives, old-school farmers wearing ball caps and new-age types in long braids, local laborers and Asheville business commuters — all of whom call Beaverdam home.

Opponents fear the recycling sorting facility will erode the community’s character, increase truck traffic and the afflict Beaverdam with the stigma of being a waste clearinghouse.

The proposal calls for a private, commercial recycling sorting plant to be built on a 55-acre tract in the Beaverdam Industrial Park off Interstate 40 outside Canton.

Waste would be trucked in and mined for recyclable commodities using automated machinery housed in an indoor warehouse-style building. The separated recyclables would then be sold and the unusable waste trucked away.

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The initial operation would employ 30 people with an average salary of $30,000, and if successful, two more facilities employing another 20 people each would be built on the site.

Commissioners must decide whether to sell the land to the company at a discounted rate in exchange for job creation and capital investment. Only a couple of speakers from the business community voiced support for the proposal at the hearing for its job creation potential.

Several speakers urged commissioners to be more discerning and far-sighted, however.

“A better idea is to hold on to that site and continue the search for a better business with better paying jobs,” said Barbara Wilkins.

The large turnout at the hearing was due in part to old-fashioned, grassroots community organizing. Neighbors knocked on doors, called their relatives and held an organizing rally at their community center.

But they also created a Facebook page, posted online videos and took to the web to research everything from political dirt on the company’s owner to recycling industry white papers.

Some in the crowd grew unruly at times. They posed questions to commissioners, then heckled and booed when they tried to answer.

“Another outburst and you’re out of here,” Commissioner Mark Swanger warned an audience member who hollered “you’re lying” from the floor.

A few speakers challenged the track record of the Henderson County businessman proposing the facility. Ken Allison, the founder behind Regional Recycling Solutions, has no other ventures of this type or scale.

“We don’t know this inexperienced, unproven man or his inexperienced, unproven company, so we don’t believe any of it,” said Tammy Powell. “We are not a dumping ground for whatever other towns and counties don’t want.”

Allison initially proposed the recycling sorting facility in Henderson County but was unable to orchestrate a land deal. He then tried in Buncombe County, but was shot down by the zoning board due to opposition from neighbors.

One speaker questioned whether Allison is being honest in his job prediction. The proposal in Buncombe earlier this year was billed as bringing 11 jobs.

“When Mr. Allison comes to Haywood County he proposes building the same size building and the same size equipment, but the job creation is suddenly 30?” said Barbara Wilkins. “This is all smoke and mirrors and making the numbers say what you want them to say.”

A couple of speakers from counties where Allison’s past plans were shot down made the trip for the public hearing.

“Beware,” Kevin Glenn warned the audience. Glenn organized against a failed plan Allison was involved with in Transylvania County two years ago to build a waste-to-energy incinerator.

One speaker dropped a bombshell during the meeting, offering to buy the industrial site himself and develop it.

“I would be willing to purchase the land for $500,0000, which is $50,000 more than the current offer,” said Dave Harley, a plastic surgeon in Asheville, who spent most of the hearing holding one of his twin babies.

Harley, the son-in-law of a former commissioner candidate Denny King, has partnered with his brother-in-law to develop a small-scale business park of their own in Beaverdam.

“We have two brand new buildings and two new businesses with 15 new jobs brought in to the county,” Harley said.

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick said after the meeting he would be interested in talking with Harley if he’s serious.

“That’s a pretty profound statement,” Kirkpatrick said.

 

Political fray

There’s another unspoken but undeniable overtone to the recycling facility feud: it’s become a political rallying cry heading into the commissioner election year of 2016.

A faction of conservative activists have long been opposed just about everything the Democratic commissioners do. But for years, they’ve been preaching to their own choir. They’ve tried to whip up outrage over various issues, but nothing has resonated with the masses.

This issue could be different. 

The conservative activists have presented themselves as the ringleaders for the Beaverdam community, and indeed have played a large role in rallying ground troops.

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick said many of the comments at the hearing were legitimate and made good points, but others seemed to be intentional misrepresentations.

“Some of the comments were very founded and some are exaggerated,” Kirkpatrick said.

Swanger tried to break through the “us-versus-them” mentality being propagated by those with political motives.

“If you disagree, it doesn’t make you bad people, or us bad people,” said Swanger. “Married people disagree. It doesn’t mean you are bad or there is something bad about you just because you disagree.”

Kirkpatrick told the audience that commissioners were making a genuine attempt to bring jobs to the county. He agreed the project has shortcomings, but conveyed the conundrum commissioners are facing.

“I wasn’t necessarily pleased with the number of jobs, as far as taking a large tract of land and utilizing it. But on the flip side of it, what other options have we had with it? In the past eight years we haven’t had any other options,” Kirkpatrick said. “We hear all the time people want us to bring jobs. Will we have more options for this property in the future? I am not certain about that.”

Commissioners have been accused of trying to sneak around and ramrod the proposal through, but they said that’s not true.

“If this public hearing isn’t open discussion I don’t know what is,” Kirkpatrick said.

While commissioners first vetted the proposal privately, that’s customary when dealing with private business ventures. The N.C. Open Meetings Law allows economic development projects involving a private company to be discussed in confidence — a privacy measure designed to protect business and industry interests.

After publicly presenting the proposal during a commissioners meeting two weeks ago, commissioners scheduled a public hearing to get input and never anticipated voting the same day.

Commissioners have a self-imposed policy not to vote on something controversial the same day as a public hearing to allow ample time for reflection on the public input.

Upon seeing the crowds and emotion at the public hearing this week, commissioners decided to hold a second one — at 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 2 — to make sure everyone has had a chance to speak, and to bring back answers to the questions the public posed.

County Manager Ira Dove was instructed to review the video of the three-hour hearing, make note of every question that had been posed by the public and research the answers, as well as any additional questions commissioners want to add to the mix.

“I took more notes tonight than I have since I was in high school,” Commissioner Bill Upton said. “We take what you say seriously. We have to have those answers before a decision is made.”

Some of the questions posed have already been answered by the county, but to no avail.

One rumor being circulated is that Allison will try to build a waste incinerator to dispose of the leftover trash after recyclables are sorted out.

“There will be a deed restriction prohibiting any sort of incineration,” Dove said.

Another common question is whether the leftover waste will end up in the county’s landfill, prematurely filling it up. County leaders explained that the waste shipped in to the recycling facility to be sorted would be considered “out-of-county” trash, which is capped. The landfill limits the volume of outside trash it will accept, and that volume would remain unchanged regardless of whether waste from the recycling center is part of the outside trash stream.

“There has been a lot of misrepresentation on this I think,” said Commissioner Mike Sorrells. “We are trying to do what’s best for Haywood County to provide jobs. I appreciate the questions and concerns that are brought up.”

Dove also pointed out that the site is part of the Beaverdam Industrial Park after all, and some degree of truck traffic is to be expected no matter what industry ends up locating there.

“Will there be trucks coming in. Yes. I can promise you with an industrial park, anything we do is going to have trucks,” Dove said.

It’s unclear whether some misconceptions about the project — and about commissioners’ intent — are intentionally being inserted as political fodder into the more legitimate concerns surrounding the project.

At a community organizing meeting last week, Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, even insinuated the commissioners and the county manager could be taking bribes. Presnell is also a longstanding political nemesis to the Democratic commissioners.

 

 

On the record

More than 40 people spoke out at a public hearing this week on a recycling sorting facility proposed for the Beaverdam Industrial in Haywood County. Here’s a sample of the comments:

“I think sooner or later this property will be worth a lot more for a better business to locate there. Don’t lose patience. It might seem like an unproductive asset but hold on a little bit longer. It belongs to all of us.” 

— Brad Stanback

“We feel that Haywood County has the ability to bring in a company that would benefit our community. When you put the word waste, trash, any of that into it, it is inevitable that the Beaverdam property values will go down.” 

— Ronnie Scott

“People are moving to this area. We are growing as a community. Is this a good fit for the plan for our county?

I think we would want to attract industry that generates positive momentum in our community, like breweries and outdoor oriented businesses.”

 — Sara Martin

“Don’t make Haywood County the waste capital of North Carolina.” 

— Larry Wilkins

“Right now we already have enough traffic out there on that road. It is becoming increasingly hard for the people who live in that community to fight that traffic out there.”

— Ronnie Brookshire

“To put a garbage waste area in our neighborhood would not only kill our property values but kill the aesthetics of our area. This is terrifying.” 

— Ken Snead

“By phase three, there would be 10 trucks coming in an hour. All these trucks burn diesel fuel. All that effluent will come down Beaverdam Valley and the fog and the smog with it.” 

— Melissa Moss

“Not all jobs and not all capital investment qualify as economic benefit. This project does not diversify our economy. As I would say to my students please spend more time researching this project.” 

— Penny Caldwell

“This whole deal really stinks.” 

— Denny King

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