Community sounds off about ReVenture project, county plugs ears
Well, I should say most of the county — and by “county,” I’m talking about the County Commission; Commissioner Bill James actually got applause last night. Hold on, I’ll explain:
So, ReVenture …
By now, you have to know that’s the name of the proposed eco-industrial park that may be located on the edge of the Catawba River, just down the way from downtown Mount Holly. It’s a big news item because our county can’t wait to pay ReVenture to take our trash, which will sort it for valuable recycleables (yes, they’re gonna sell them) before incinerating/gasifying* the rest.
(If you need to catch up, check out this article I wrote for Charlotte magazine and, by all means, follow Susan Stabley’s coverage over at The Charlotte Business Journal because, lawd knows, this project is “evolving” faster than any one article can express and she’s doing a helluva job keeping up.)
It’s important to note that this project won’t just touch the western side of the county. There’s the sorting facility, which will be on Amble Drive, just off North Graham Street. Then, there’s the county’s recent pot of hot water — a $15 million planned expansion at the Foxhole landfill in south Charlotte which will enable the landfill to accept residential trash should the county’s deal with ReVenture fall through, but also the ash left over after our trash is incinerated/gasified should the deal be sealed. (Read more about last night’s contentious public meeting at Elon Elementary School from WCNC.)
There’s also the air we all breathe that may or may not be impacted by emissions from the plant — until we have the results of the third-party study the county decided they needed after the public demanded one (and, let’s be real, after the county was found to have very interested parties on the boards making decisions about this project), we won’t know for sure.
Here’s the thing, though: The more the community declares their concerns about this project — which has sailed through the state’s marble halls, too — the more those in power pat citizens’ heads and tell everyone to trust them.
You can most likely witness that same patronizing attitude today on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks’ program. (Listen live or to a recording here.) The guests are Tom McKittrick, ReVenture’s main man; County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts; and the county’s Executive Director of Waste Management, Bruce Gledhill.
All three of them have been ReVenture cheerleaders since the start, even though no one outside of the company was made aware of the plant’s technology — promised for months to be like Germany’s or Japan’s only to be revealed as being developed in a field in Kansas, U.S.A. — until late December of last year. And, there are, to date, no traffic studies, no environmental studies, no public health studies and no long-term economic studies to, you know, study.
Who needs studies when you’ve got promises from capitalists and politicians, right?
Well, here’s where Bill James’ applause came in: He seems to hear the people when they say they don’t want residential trash in Foxhole, which is currently used for commercial and development debris. James made a point of saying so at last night’s meeting and about three weeks ago when he was the lone vote against funding the landfill’s expansion. But, even his stance doesn’t fill in the gaps those studies will plug.
As far as I can tell, all the people are asking for over at Amble Drive and in west Mecklenburg are for some reassurances. They don’t want their traffic, roads, or health screwed by someone peddling promises — and who can blame them? Even ReVenture’s most ardent opposition (I think it’s safe to say that’s the local chapter of the Sierra Club) likes most of the rest of the plans for the so-called eco-industrial park. But the leadership in that organization, namely Bill Gupton, like the citizens who are speaking out, would like for things to slow down long enough so those few studies can be conducted. We want to make the best possible decision with our limited tax dollars and for everyone’s health, right? That seems reasonable to everyone but the people in charge, who want us to just relax and let them handle things.
This is when you may ask yourself, “What’s the rush?” Two things … OK, one thing: money.
The company is chasing federal stimulus money, and lots of it — up to $50 million. At first, the deadline for shovel-readiness was the end of 2010, now it’s the end of this year. The county’s also trying to figure out who’s contract they’ll sign: ReVenture’s or Republic Services, the company that already hauls our trash away to a landfill in Cabbarrus County. The county’s contract is up with Republic in a little over a year, and they’re worried the rates will go up. (ReVenture undercut them by $1 per ton.) I’ve been told by Republic representatives, however, that they’re willing to negotiate.
But are our government officials willing to negotiate with the public they serve? Are they willing to prove that ReVenture’s incinerator-gasifier hybrid* will do all of the good and wonderful things it’s promised to do, without harming anyone in any way, before they sign on the dotted line? Only time will tell.
Oh, and one more thing: The cheerleaders are going to tell you about all the jobs ReVenture will create. Keep this in mind as they do: The first jobs will go to the folks from Kansas that came up with this technology, and there will probably be a few blue collar jobs to be had over at Amble Drive, too. But the rest of the jobs (more than 90 percent of them) won’t come for years, and that’s assuming the rest of the eco-industrial park builds out as projected — which is assuming a lot. Without the incinerator/gasifier hybrid, none of the jobs will materialize.
* Note: the company’s reps really hate the word “incinerator,” even though the main man, Tom McKittrick, stood before the county’s ReVenture Advisory Council and talked about “100-year-old incineration technology” being mixed — for the first time — with gasification technology. I later asked him if that meant the ReVenture “waste-to-energy” (that’s the terminology they prefer) plant was a hybrid, and he agreed that it was.