Holly Springs landfill is a go

Staff WriterJune 6, 2006 

Wake County's trash will soon be headed to Holly Springs.

In a 5-2 vote Monday, county commissioners ended 12 years of debate and decided to open a landfill in the southern Wake town in the next two years.

They also rejected a last-minute compromise to study high-tech alternatives for trash.

The town has argued that the land would be better used as a shopping center, manufacturing plant or housing. But county staff said it would cost as much as $224 million more to ship the garbage elsewhere over the next 25 years.

Commissioner Betty Lou Ward said the landfill proposal had been studied long enough.

"I just feel like it's time to move on," she said.

The county designated the site for a landfill in 1994. In lawsuits, residents argued that it was racist to put it next door to a predominantly black neighborhood.

After the lawsuits were settled in 2003, the county began considering the landfill again.

Opponents since then have argued that land in the rapidly growing town is now too valuable.

Opposition gathered momentum in November, when pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb said it was interested in part of the site for a plant.

Commissioners postponed a vote on the landfill and considered offering $8.7 million to $17.7 million in cash incentives to lure the company, county records show.

After Bristol-Myers decided in April to pursue other sites, the town turned to increasingly unusual measures to stop the landfill.

In the past six months, Holly Springs leaders have recruited shopping mall developers, taken out ads in the newspaper, hired a former Raleigh mayor to make their case, and even offered to buy the land from the county.

On Monday, the town chartered a bus to help bring more than 150 residents to the meeting. Many wore matching shirts of green -- the town's color -- and stickers with a red slash through the word "landfill."

Jeff Keeler, 44, a systems analyst with WakeMed, came to the meeting with his two children.

Standing in the courthouse hallway after the vote, he said the commissioners showed "shallow thinking."

"They did not take into consideration the future of Wake County," he said.

Lois Koeth, 72, a retired nurse who has lived in Holly Springs for five years, said she was disappointed commissioners didn't approve a late compromise proposed by Commissioner Kenn Gardner.

"I think that there were some new facts and figures that they didn't even consider," she said.

Gardner, an architect, had proposed postponing the landfill's opening by five years.

During that time, Wake would use a landfill in a neighboring county, while staff investigated high-tech incinerators that would burn trash instead of burying it.

Gardner said the incinerators would take up about a fifth of the space of the landfill, leaving the rest of the 471-acre site for a mall, a big business and three schools.

Commissioner Tony Gurley said the technology also would allow the county to handle its trash problems for a much longer period. The landfill is estimated to close in 25 years.

"The thing that I find most troubling is that we are looking at a 25-year solution with a landfill," Gurley said. "I believe these other technologies offer the 50- or 100-year option."

But Ward said the proposal was too "speculative."

Commissioners Ward, Harold Webb, Phil Jeffreys, Joe Bryan and Herb Council voted for the landfill. Gardner and Gurley voted against it.

Staff writer Ryan Teague Beckwith can be reached at 836-4944 or rbeckwit@newsobserver.com.

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