A month ago when Joshua Smaltz of Bay Disposal & Recycling appeared before the Southern Shores Town Council, he was seeking a rate increase for the curbside recycling his company provides under a three-year Town contract signed in 2018. Mr. Smaltz was concerned about escalating processing fees, which had increased six-fold in just 18 months: from $20 per ton to $120 per ton of collected material.
Tuesday night, Bay Disposal’s Outer Banks Site Manager had an even bleaker message for the Council: His trucks can no longer take Southern Shores’—or any other Outer Banks towns’—curbside recyclables to the Virginia disposal site (owned by TFC Recycling) that Bay Disposal has been using.
Further, if Virginia’s environmental agency does not modify the company’s permitting, Bay Disposal will not be able to continue to use Wheelabrator, the waste-energy plant in Virginia to which it has transported loads since TFC (Tidewater Fibre Corp.) stopped accepting its material Dec. 10 because it no longer has a buyer for it. (For background, see The Beacon, 12/7/19, 1/3/20.) Wheelabrator purportedly charges $65 per ton of material processed.
The Beacon wonders how much longer publicly funded curbside recycling will be available in Southern Shores and whether it even makes sense to continue efforts to amend the contract with Bay Disposal. The option of encouraging residents to drop off their recyclables at the Kitty Hawk/Dare County-operated recycling center, or of setting up a Southern Shores-based or Southern Shores/Duck-based recycling center is beginning to look much more sensible and environmentally and fiscally responsible.
The grass-roots, community-based approach to recycling may be the answer to the current crisis brought on by the declining worldwide market for U.S. recyclables. Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head already operate recycling centers; Kitty Hawk’s center is a joint effort with the county. Southern Shores should follow their lead. (See below.)
In contrast to Mr. Smaltz’s news, Michael Fletcher, chairperson of the potential Southern Shores branch library committee, gave the Council a promising report, revealing that TowneBank has agreed to rent to Dare County library space at 6 Juniper Trail for $1.00 per year for 10 years. Mr. Fletcher showed a design plan for what would be a 2,000-square-foot library in a building on Juniper Trail that once housed law offices.
What Mr. Fletcher described as a “modest zoning change” would be required for the library to operate in the chosen location, in addition to “modifications” to the current structure. For the modest change, TowneBank would have to apply to the Town for a zoning variance, and a hearing would have to be held before the Board of Adjustment.
The committee, also represented Tuesday by Lilias Morrison, sought the Town Council’s backing for its planned efforts to go before the Duck and Kitty Hawk town councils to present its library proposal and then to the Dare County Board of Commissioners. Its intent is to present the proposal to the Commissioners for their approval in time to include funding for the new library branch in Dare’s fiscal year 2020-21 budget.
The Town Council unanimously approved the committee’s report, which is not yet on the Town website, and its presentations before the various governmental boards. Neither Mr. Fletcher nor Ms. Morrison mentioned any cost figures.
NEW FIRE STATION
In other significant announcements, A.R. Chesson Construction Co.’s project manager for the new SSVFD fire station informed the Council, somewhat reluctantly, that the construction, originally scheduled for completion this month, has been delayed by at least five months.
According to Chesson’s Greg Evans, “We’re [now] looking at a May finish,” which he clarified, upon questioning by the Council, as the “mid to end” of the month.
Mr. Evans vaguely referred to “issues with drawings and calculations,” lack of needed materials, and other impediments to progress. He also mentioned “engineering issues that we’re still battling out.” The station’s truss, he noted, just arrived Tuesday, finally enabling the crew to start working on enclosing the offices in the 14,376-square foot station and doing other interior jobs.
No one on the Council sought to pin Mr. Evans down on precisely what the problems have been, and Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett did not comment. The Beacon would characterize this matter as “to be continued” . . . probably into the summer.
PLANNING BOARD APPOINTMENTS
The Town Council also made its appointments to the Planning Board—which turned out to number three because the Council unanimously voted to elevate First Alternate Tony DiBernardo to a regular Board membership, and Second Alternate Michael Basilone unexpectedly resigned last Sunday, according to Mr. Haskett, who also serves as Planning Director. (Thank you, Mr. Haskett, for remembering the public.)
Mr. DiBernardo succeeds Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey, who was reappointed to a three-year Planning Board term last July and resigned in November after her Town Council election. Both of the alternates’ terms expire June 30, 2021.
The Council named Lynda Burek first alternate, by a vote of 3-2, with Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilman Leo Holland dissenting; and Robert McClendon second alternate, by unanimous vote.
Ms. Morey nominated both Mr. DiBernardo and Ms. Burek, and Councilman Matt Neal nominated Mr. McClendon.
Several Council members—including the Mayor who said he had met with him—spoke highly of Mr. McClendon, whom Ms. Morey described as a “low-impact development specialist” with the Coastal Studies Institute in Wanchese. Mr. McClendon has a master’s degree in landscape architecture from North Carolina State University.
Ms. Burek, who was a candidate for Town Council in 2015, has served the SSCA in different capacities, including as treasurer and interim president. She described herself in her Planning Board application as a “senior federal executive career employee.”
Despite these three appointments, the current absence of a Planning Board chairperson, and issues in Town that the Board could take up (e.g., the problem of stormwater runoff), Mr. Haskett announced that the Planning Board will not meet this month.
The Town Council tabled its appointments to the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Committee until February, upon motion by Mayor Pro Tem Morey who said the “newer Council members” need more time to select “good” appointees. Councilman Holland was serving on the Council when the current committee members were appointed.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT RECYCLING? LOOK TO THE GRASS ROOTS
Despite being advised last April that the Town’s curbside recyclables were likely ending up in landfills, neither the Town Council nor former Town Manager Peter Rascoe took any action to investigate or mitigate the situation. As a result, Southern Shores now faces a crisis that it could have anticipated and addressed with calm deliberation, rather than with a sense of urgency driven by Bay Disposal.
The Beacon believes, however, that it can still be proactive, as well as thoughtfully methodical, in protecting the interests of Town residents.
After Mr. Smaltz received notice last month that TFC would no longer accept its recycling because TFC no longer has a buyer for it and cannot store the material until such time as it may have a buyer, he sought out another disposal site: Wheelabrator.
Wheelabrator Technologies owns or operates about two dozen waste-to-energy facilities in the United States and several in the United Kingdom. Its Virginia facility is in Portsmouth. See https://www.wtienergy.com/plant-locations/energy-from-waste/wheelabrator-portsmouth.
Tuesday Mr. Smaltz reported to the Town Council that, if Bay Disposal receives the permit modification it needs to continue using Wheelabrator, it would be able to offer curbside recycling to the Town at a monthly cost of $6.59 per home—an increase of $1.17 over the monthly per-home contract rate.
But Wheelabrator does not recycle materials.
The next closest recycling plant to TFC, which Mr. Smaltz did not identify by name or location in either the meeting-packet materials or at the meeting, would charge “upwards” of $150/ton of processed material. Southern Shores would have to pay a monthly fee of $8.12 per home, if this plant were used—an increase of $2.70 over the contract rate.
Councilman Holland asked Mr. Smaltz if he was confident that he would get the necessary amended permitting from the State of Virginia. He replied that he was “99 percent confident” and that the modification would likely occur by the end of this week.
The problem with Wheelabrator, as The Beacon understands, is that Bay Disposal’s use of its facility may be short-term. The recycling contractor soon could be stuck again for a disposal site. The outlook for single-stream curbside recycling locally and nationwide is rather grim.
With China, the principal recycling buyer, imposing bans and restrictions on imports from the United States, and other countries refusing to buy the product—because of the degree of contamination contained in single-stream recycling—the worldwide recycling market is in great turmoil. Curbside recycling has become—and may become in Southern Shores—a casualty of this turmoil.
Can Southern Shores hang in and wait out the “storm”? Will the storm ever pass? Mr. Smaltz was not optimistic that the market would change any time soon.
Nationwide, small towns comparable to Southern Shores in size are fighting to save recycling by taking a grass-roots, community-based approach to the problems. For an excellent article on what small towns—which cannot afford to operate large depot drop-off centers like big cities offer—are doing, see: https://www.wastedive.com/news/how-small-cities-around-the-country-are-fighting-to-save-recycling/545002/.
The Beacon would like to see Southern Shores reach out to Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head to learn how they handle their recycling centers, and, in the case of Kitty Hawk, which has partnered with Dare County, to investigate a possible collaboration.
Dare County also operates a main recycling center in Manteo and disposal sites in Buxton, Rodanthe, and Stumpy Point.
Among the Dare County beach towns, only Duck and Southern Shores do not have staffed recycling centers of their own. Duck, like Southern Shores, offers publicly funded curbside recycling, but Duck’s residential curbside recycling contract is with TFC, with whom Southern Shores did business before former Town Manager Peter Rascoe switched to Bay Disposal in 2018 to save money.
See Duck’s exemplary website page about recycling in its town at https://www.townofduck.com/waste-disposal/curbside-recycling-pickup/. Southern Shores provides no information on its website about what is and is not recyclable. This is a major omission and unique among Dare County beach towns.
The Kitty Hawk/Dare County Recycling Center, located at 4190 Bob Perry Road, is open to all Dare County residents and is very convenient to Southern Shores. I have used it and would use it again, if the Town were to end its curbside recycling program. See https://www.kittyhawknc.gov/departments-and-services/public-works/recycling/.
A longtime diehard recycler, I do not support private recycling subscriptions, in which Ms. Morey and Mr. Neal have shown interest and which reportedly cost $12.45 monthly for residents in towns south of Southern Shores. I believe if curbside recycling is privatized, many people will simply stop recycling. Subscription-rate recycling is often referred to as “voluntary” recycling. There also is no guarantee that Bay Disposal will be able to continue offering recycling by subscription.
Southern Shores has long been known as a town of volunteers. The Beacon believes that there would be many residents who would volunteer to keep clean recycling going in the community. Local businesses, too, can help by collecting recyclables (see above photo) and sponsoring drop-off recycling events in their parking lots.
Someone (the SSCA, perhaps?) needs to start the conversation in Southern Shores. The Town needs to get up to speed. How do we save recycling from ending when publicly funded curbside collection ends—sooner or later?
$475,000 FEMA REIMBURSEMENT FOR DORIAN CLEANUP: The Town Council unanimously approved a FY 2019-20 budget amendment of $475,000 to cover costs incurred during the cleanup after Hurricane Dorian. The Town expects to be reimbursed for these costs by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
This budget amendment was part of the Council’s consent agenda and was not publicly explained at the meeting until new Town Council members Elizabeth Morey and Matt Neal emphasized some points. Ms. Morey clearly stated the amount involved, for the record, and Mr. Neal asked: “Are we realizing the income from that [FEMA reimbursement] this fiscal year?”
Thank you, Councilman Neal. This is a basic question that should have been answered at the meeting without you having to ask. It is a matter of public information.
Finance Officer Bonnie Swain responded to Mr. Neal by saying, “Ideally, yes. Realistically, probably not.” She also noted that Ms. Morey had asked her the same question in a meeting just the previous day, but Ms. Morey did not see the need to enlighten the public on Ms. Swain’s answer. Please fill us in, Mayor Pro Tem.
Ms. Swain also said that FEMA reimbursement for costs related to Hurricane Matthew took two years. The $475,000 “receivable” that the Town is due from FEMA is actually more than a “bookkeeping matter,” as Mayor Bennett called it. It is money out of the public coffers that cannot be used for other worthwhile projects or for recovery after other natural disasters that may occur, until it is reimbursed.
RED FLAG: The Beacon does not believe it is too early to raise a red flag about the many non-public meetings and/or email and telephone conversations that the Mayor, the Town Council, and Town staff members are obviously having. Throughout Tuesday’s session, reference was made to such private meetings. It was even more clear last month that the “new” Town Council had been huddling in November.
The Beacon would remind elected officials that they serve a constituency and that the public has a right to know the details of the Town’s business. They can violate the spirit of the state open-meeting laws, without violating their letter. The charge of a lack of transparency will arise, as it did five years ago, if they repeatedly keep the public out of the loop by giving scant reports on what they have decided behind the scenes.
The reason former Town Councilmen Gary McDonald and Fred Newberry often did not agree to conduct the Town’s business privately between public meetings was because they wanted to be sure to include the public in their deliberations and decision-making.
In settling in to their offices and roles, The Beacon would ask the new Council members to keep this in mind.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR THE TOWN COUNCIL’S WORKSHOP SESSION ON TUESDAY, JAN. 21, 9 a.m., AT THE PITTS CENTER: The Council will finally get down to brass tasks on beach nourishment and how much a project would cost Southern Shores property taxpayers. Neither the Council nor the Interim Town Manager reported on any communications they may have had since Dec. 3, 2019, or are having with Dare County; Ken Willson, the coastal engineering consultant; or financial consultant DEC Associates, about beach nourishment.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/9/20; updated 1/10/20