Waste might seem to magically disappear when you place it at your curb or driveway every week, but your trash's journey doesn't end when it hits the back of the garbage truck. Chatham County residents, your crumpled napkin and grease-streaked Saran wrap travels almost 90 miles to reach a landfill—a long trip for garbage's final act.
Since 1993, when the old Chatham County landfill closed, municipal solid waste has been trucked 81 miles to the neighboring Sampson County landfill. Currently, trucks haul trash to that landfill five times a day, totaling about 42,000 tons each year.
Now local officials are examining nine potential sites for a landfill within Chatham County; that list will be further whittled to three or four. Solid Waste Management Director Dan LaMontagne says he will present those final locations to commissioners by January 2011.
The county could save $148 million to $195 million over 40 years if it built its own landfill, according to a recent study conducted by Chatham officials.
Site requirements call for at least 400 acres, with the landfill—which will be lined—occupying 90 acres; the additional acreage allows for 200-foot buffers between neighboring property lines and the waste site.
At a Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) meeting last week, property owners near the proposed sites aired their concerns, particularly about potential contamination and declining property values.
Community members from Hickory Mountain—a 60-acre agricultural area in northwestern Chatham—called for sites 7 and 12 to be removed from the list.
"If you plan for a landfill to last 50 years, you'll continue to bury your garbage for the next 50 years," said Hickory Mountain resident Andrew Miles.
Commissioners could choose to make the landfill regional—open to other counties—or limit it to Chatham County.
The county produces 180 tons of waste daily. LaMontagne and his staff are recommending a facility that could accommodate 500 tons of waste per day.
"If we plan for a 180-ton facility," LaMontagne said, "we don't have room to grow, but a larger facility can always be scaled down."
Jeff Johnson, a Hickory Mountain resident and webmaster of the No Hickory Mountain Landfill, questioned the purpose of constructing a landfill that will require garbage from other counties to generate a profit.
"No one cares until it's in their backyard," said SWAC member Sherry Yarkosky, recycling market and development specialist with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Although several residents complained they had only recently heard about the county's landfill plans, Yarkosky pointed out the lack of participation by Chatham County residents when SWAC held several meetings about the sites last year.
"You're playing catchup now," Yarkosky said.
Chatham County's unlined landfill off U.S. 64 on Pittsboro Landfill Road was closed in 1993, after the Environmental Protection Agency required all new landfills to be lined.
The unlined landfill created environmental problems when liquid waste leaked into private residential wells. After the county placed those rural households on municipal water in the '90s, the site was covered, and the county shipped its trash elsewhere.
That landfill, known as Site No. 10, is still on the list, but LaMontagne says the county could not reuse the landfill in its current condition. The county would have to purchase additional property and construct only part of a new landfill on that site.
"From a broader environmental view, the county operating its own landfill makes a lot of sense," LaMontagne says.
The next Solid Waste Advisory Committee meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 1, 6:30 p.m. at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro.