A group of environmentally friendly businesses that has called East Durham home for the last two years is looking to relocate this month, as a new tenant takes over their Green Oil Campus on Angier Avenue.
Landlord Orange Recycling Services last week sold its lease-to-own rights and is evicting Carolina Biodiesel and several other businesses to make way for a different venture.
Green businesses that employ seven full-time and seven part-time workers will have to shut down if they can't find a new home by May 15, says Marc Dreyfor, the manager and co-founder of Carolina Biodiesel, which sells green diesel fuel commercially, and Greenway Transportation.
The two-acre campus has served as a hub for planet-friendly businesses and nonprofits. It sports a couple of old gas pumps, a garage and an office building that houses Youth Involved in Keeping Earth Sustainable (YIKES!), which teaches children about the environment.
Students from Durham Technical Community College also had been using the site as a green jobs training facility. At-risk youth had been volunteering there.
Originally built in 1928 for petroleum storage, the 400,000-gallon tanks onsite were a big draw for him, Dreyfor said.
"We tried to use it as a vehicle for community development," said Dreyfor, who is also acting president of Forest Foundation, a nonprofit, and Forests of the World, which sells imported goods made by the indigenous residents of endangered woodlands.
The property has a tax value of $161,915 and is zoned light industrial, but it is surrounded by a residential neighborhood. It is designated as a brownfield by the Environmental Protection Agency, which means it has been determined to have pollutants on site, and was vacant until Dreyfor opened up shop there.
Orange Recycling, a 20-year-old commercial and industrial recycling company on East Pettigrew Street just a few blocks away, sold the lease-to-own rights to Stanley Environmental, according to Chief Financial Officer Kurt Uphoff.
Stanley Environmental is headquartered in Stanley, N.C., about 20 miles northwest of Charlotte. It's a restaurant grease trap dewatering business that recycles grease trap waste and used fryer oil through a process that separates the fats and oils from solids so they can be reused.
Ironically, Dreyfor inadvertently brought in the competition. Because recycled restaurant grease can be used to make biofuel, he thought a trap grease recycling operation would be a good business to partner with to buy the lease-to-own rights on the property.
Until last month, another grease trap recycling business called Reclamation Station operated at the Green Oil Campus. Dreyfor says he had high hopes for a partnership with Reclamation Station and its co-founder, Van Kloempken.
"It's about synergy," he said. "It would all fit together if done right."
Dreyfor spoke on behalf of Reclamation Station during a meeting of the Durham City Council in November of 2007. He urged the council to support a special use permit to allow Reclamation Station to operate on the site. The council approved the permit over the objections of some neighbors with the stipulation that Kloempken would install a mister to keep the smell from filtering out into the neighborhood.
Dreyfor almost immediately regretted going to the mat for Reclamation Station. He alleges it failed to install a mister, and that the smell was intense and a health hazard.
"For nine months we lived in absolute stench," he said. "I was sick continuously with upper respiratory problems."
Kloempken, however, says he did install the mister and even offered Dreyfor control of when to turn it on and off.
"All I know is that he had no complaints when we were there," Kloempken said. "He started complaining after the owner sold the property."Dreyfor said he withheld rent for three months so that Orange Recycling would do something about the smell.
Meanwhile, Reclamation Station shut down when Kloempken sold his business to Carolina By-Products, one of the largest independent food industry by-products recycling companies in North America.
Orange Recycling officials paint a different picture of the Green Oil Campus situation.
"The economic downturn hurt our business," Uphoff said. "We could no longer afford to carry them. ... We saw [the Green Oil Campus] as a wonderful opportunity. It just didn't work out."
Dreyfor couldn't pay the rent, Uphoff alleges, and with the economy pulling everyone down, Orange had to cut him loose. A recycling business that's been around for 20 years obviously cares about the environment, he said.
Stanley Environmental has a good record with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The Division of Waste Management has issued only two notices of violation, both minor, to Stanley Environmental, both in 2008. One was for not marking its property line. The other was for failing to correctly mark a truck used to transport septage. Stanley quickly rectified both situations, DENR spokesman Jamie Kritzer said.
Company president Jim Lanier did not return calls or e-mails requesting comment.
Dreyfor said he's not sure what's going to happen to his employees when the businesses move, including himself and his partner, M.K. Williams.
"M.K. and I are sort of out of jobs until we find a location and funding," he said. "We're going to have to lower our expectations, go into survival mode."
They are looking at potential sites and estimate that moving will cost $10,000. Dreyfor is hoping to draw investors and has applied for grants.
"We're going to keep our fingers crossed," he said, "to get some of the money that comes through with the [federal] stimulus package."
He's hoping that as the economy starts to turn around, people will be more likely to invest in a business that's local and good for the Earth.
"It's ironic," Dreyfor said. "We're all about sustainability, but we're not very sustainable ourselves."