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Opponents rally against recycling proposal

fr recyclinghearingHaywood County commissioners took another volley of criticism this week as they continued to weigh the pros and cons of selling land in the county industrial park to a recycling business venture.

The idea has met stiff public opposition in recent weeks. Critics claim the county would be shortsighted to sell the land given the relatively small number of low-wage jobs — sifting recyclables out of the trash stream with automated machinery — that would be created. 

“Take the trash out before it ever comes in. Vote no,” said Travis Wesley, who spoke against the project at a public hearing this week.

The start-up company Regional Recycling Solutions has offered the county $780,000 for 55 acres in the Beaverdam Industrial Park off Interstate 40. The business plan involves trucking in commercial, industrial and household waste laden with recyclables that would be sorted and sold as commodities. The company projects 30 jobs paying an average salary of $30,000, with more to come if the venture is successful.

Opponents questioned the credentials of the businessman fronting the plan, citing a murky business plan rife with inconsistencies.

“Something is fishy and to a common-sense public, that dog won’t hunt,” said Tammy Powell, a Beaverdam resident. “This is a pig in a poke.”

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A speaker later in the hearing took it a step further.

“It’s a pig in a poke at best — it is a Trojan Horse at worse,” Melissa Moss said.

SEE ALSO: Property tax exemption could be fatal blow for controversial recycling venture

Commissioners emphasized that they are still trying to decide what to do and said they are sincerely weighing public input.

“I am going to continue to be open-minded,” Commissioner Bill Upton told the audience. “Listening to the people was what I said I would do when I ran for office. Until this board votes, I can assure you not all minds are made up.”

After the meeting, Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick said he, too, was still mulling the pros and cons.

“Honestly, I truly don’t know. I have leaned one way or the other twice since this started — for and against it, for and against it,” Kirkpatrick said.

On one hand, Kirkpatrick said, he would rather hold out for more jobs. But on the other hand, what if nothing better comes along?

The county has a lot invested in the industrial park site. It spent $700,000 eight years ago to grade a 10-acre “shovel-ready” building pad on the sloped tract. It has been waiting for a taker ever since.

Some questioned the speculative grading as an expensive gamble at the time, but what’s done is done and commissioners shouldn’t jump the gun now.

“I think Haywood County can do better than just more garbage,” said David Harley. “This land, which belongs to the taxpayers of Haywood County, is extremely valuable. We should wait until the best option becomes available.” 

Several speakers at the public hearing urged commissioners to keep waiting.

“It’s discouraging to see this property sit idle for years as the nation climbs out of the recession, but I think this property will soon be worth much more than Haywood County has spent purchasing and developing the site,” said Brad Stanback, a Beaverdam resident.

Stanback told commissioners to be patient and hold out for something better than “garbage sorting.”

Several speakers questioned the quality of jobs that would be created.

“I know we can do better and bring a company and jobs into our community that we would be proud of,” said Kelly Brookshire, a mom who lives in the Beaverdam community.


Political fallout?

Some commissioners had seemed ready and willing to sell the industrial park tract to the start-up recycling sorting facility a month ago when the idea was first floated publicly. But the plan quickly unraveled as opposition mounted.

A public hearing two weeks ago attracted nearly 200 people and more than 35 speakers, almost all of them against the idea. To ensure ample opportunity for public input, commissioners held a second public hearing this week.

It drew a smaller crowd of about 100 but had just as many speakers — about half repeats from last time — with all of them against the idea.

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick thanked members of the public for raising some valid points during the hearings. But commissioners said they are still in the due diligence phase and don’t yet know how they will vote.

The hearing this week was more civil than the first one, due in part to Commissioner Mark Swinger reminding the audience to watch their manners.

“To yell at us and call us names or the speakers is really not productive. It is also beneath the dignity of Haywood County citizens,” Swinger said.

The firestorm seemed to catch county officials off-guard. At first, the opposition seemed to be just another gripe from the commissioners’ regular critics, a faction of conservative activists that routinely take the mostly Democratic county board to task on anything they do. 

But it soon became apparent the issue was not merely haymaking by the regular county commission critics.

“I know you deal with a few gadflies that are always in your face complaining about everything coming and going. This situation is different,” said Barry Bailey. 

The timing of the controversy could have political implications with two of the five commissioners’ seats on the ballot next year.

“Don’t let the sale of this land be your legacy as a commissioner,” said Barbara Wilkins.

Although the next commissioner election is still a year away, the sign-up period for candidates is just around the corner in December. Fallout from the recycling center drama could be a motivating factor in who decides to run, and could in turn be kept alive by candidates looking for fodder to overturn the Democratic majority on the board.

“If you arrogantly go forward in this travesty of justice, you may think it will be over. But I guarantee you it will not be over,” said Tammy Powell, alluding to lawsuits. “The least of your concerns will be your re-election.”

But Beaverdam resident Kelly Brookshire told commissioners people wouldn’t hold a grudge against them for floating the idea, as long as they made the right decision in the end.

“We respect you for trying to bring jobs into the county,” said Brookshire. “It is OK to present an idea that doesn’t succeed. The purpose of holding these hearings is to discuss the issue and give the community the opportunity to persuade you. The community is putting their trust in you to turn this deal down.”


The NIMBY card

Opponents to the proposed recycling sorting facility in the Beaverdam Industrial Park in Haywood County come from all walks of life, from long-haired organic farmers to tidy real estate agents, from blue-collar Southern Democrats to conservative businessmen.

But there’s one unifying characteristic: almost all the speakers decrying the proposal at two public hearings held by the county are from the Beaverdam community. They share a universal fear that the project would negatively impact their community, from increased truck traffic to a visual blight.

Debby King said putting the recycling facility on the industrial site was borderline unconstitutional.

“We have the right to enjoy the fruit of our own labors. You will be taking something from many of us in Beaverdam that is not yours to take,” King said.

Commissioners said they can’t let “not-in-my-backyard” arguments raised by Beaverdam residents derail job creation and economic development, however.

“We are trying to make a decision that is best for the whole county,” Commissioner Kevin Ensley said.

Commissioners said it is not an option to let the industrial site lie fallow forever. The whole point of creating an industrial park was to bring in industry to create jobs. Whatever comes to the site will undoubtedly add truck traffic, perhaps even more than this.

Kirkpatrick said in some ways this facility would be a fairly clean industry. There would be no air emissions and no polluted water discharge. It is not particularly noisy. And the idea of sorting out recyclables from the waste stream seems like a smart thing to do.

But to Beaverdam residents, a recycling clearinghouse that trucks in dozens of tractor-trailer loads of trash a week sounds scary.

“We got to be mindful of where we live. Beaverdam and this county don’t need more waste coming in to this county,” said Bennett Hipps.

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