This bin was one of the collection bins distributed in the 1980s by Virginia’s Southeastern Public Service Authority to Southern Shores homeowners so that we could have curbside recycling.

The Nags Head Board of Commissioners is expected to consider next month whether to renegotiate its residential recycling contract with Bay Disposal & Recycling, with whom Southern Shores also does business, after learning that the hauler is taking the town’s recyclables to a waste-to-energy plant rather than to a recycling plant, as the town’s contract requires, according to a Jan. 14 report by The Outer Banks Voice.

The Voice’s Michelle Wagner reports that the Powell’s Point-based collector, which also collects Southern Shores’ curbside recycling and has requested a rate increase from the Town for its services, notified the Town of Nags Head on Jan. 7 that “all its recyclables were being transported to Wheelabrator, a waste-to-energy facility in Portsmouth, Va. to be generated as renewable electricity for a utility and used for steam at the U.S. Navy shipyard in Norfolk.”

See: https://www.outerbanksvoice.com/2020/01/14/nags-head-may-face-tough-choice-on-recycling/

Bay Disposal’s Outer Banks Site Manager Joshua Smaltz, also advised the Southern Shores Town Council at its Jan. 7 meeting that it is currently taking all of Southern Shores’ curbside recycling to Wheelabrator, a company with waste-to-energy facilities in the United States and the United Kingdom.

According to a timeline prepared by Mr. Smaltz, which was included in the Jan. 7 meeting packet, the Bay Disposal employee informed “the Town” on Dec. 10, 2019 that TFC’s recycling center in Hampton Roads would no longer accept Bay Disposal’s loads. On Dec. 16, Mr. Smaltz writes, he proposed to the Town that its recycling be reused “at the energy plant.”

Both Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett and Mayor Tom Bennett, thus, knew weeks before the Council’s meeting earlier this month that Bay Disposal was taking Southern Shores recyclables to Wheelabrator (“the energy plant”), which is mentioned in the Jan. 7 meeting packet, along with a notation about its costs. (Comments by Mayor Bennett at the Council meeting confirm his knowledge.)

(See pp. 14-15 and 18 in the packet at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-01-07.pdf.)

Mr. Smaltz did not publicly elaborate, however, at the Council meeting upon the nature of Wheelabrator’s operations, nor did Mr. Haskett or Mayor Bennett explain the nature of Wheelabrator’s operations—and none of the other Town Council members asked.

Wheelabrator converts residential waste to useable energy by burning it. It does not recycle material.

(For background on the recycling crisis in Southern Shores, see The Beacon’s reports of 12/7/19 and 1/9/20.)

Bay Disposal reportedly breached its contract with Nags Head when it transported its recyclables to Wheelabrator, without advising the town.

Under Nags Head’s current contract, The Voice reports, “Town Manager Cliff Ogburn said that no more than 10 percent of the weight of recycled materials collected in Nags Head could end up in [a] landfill or be incinerated without permission from the town.”

According to The Voice: “While sending Nags Head’s recyclables to Wheelabrator is permissible under the town’s 30-year agreement with the Albemarle Solid Waste Management Authority, Ogburn said a consideration just as important is whether the commissioners and the community want to continue the recycling program based on this new information.

“Some in the community, Ogburn told the Voice, may support recycling, but are ‘not as agreeable to this form of use.’”

Some in Southern Shores also may not agree with having their recyclables incinerated at Wheelabrator, but they have not been adequately informed by the Town Manager, Mayor, and Town Council of the circumstances.

The Beacon believes it is long past time for Interim Town Manager Haskett to step up in this crisis and show leadership. He is quoted by The Voice as saying that Southern Shores “is currently waiting to hear back from Bay Disposal about state requirements regarding the route by which recyclables get to Wheelabrator, which will, in turn, impact rates. ‘Either way, we are looking at a rate increase,’ he noted.”

Such passivity is unacceptable. Bay Disposal does not run Southern Shores, and Mr. Haskett does not need the Town Council’s permission to contact Mr. Ogburn and the town managers of other nearby beach towns to start a dialogue on how the towns can work together to ensure that Outer Bankers can continue to recycle, curbside or otherwise.

Recycle, not incinerate.

Southern Shores should not be in the position of waiting to hear what Bay Disposal has to say and then seeking to accommodate it. We should take action for our own good now.

Which single-stream recycling centers in Virginia and North Carolina are closest to Dare County? What would it cost each beach municipality that currently has a contract with Bay Disposal to transport its recyclables to these centers? Can the towns collaborate and pool their resources to keep costs down? What other options exist for the Dare County beach towns to work together for the betterment of all?

Creative problem-solving about the recycling crisis has yet to occur in Southern Shores, and it is long overdue.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/18/20

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