Residents of northern Forsyth County are ramping up a fight against a proposed landfill, which will accept tree stumps, concrete and other inert material.
The vote to recommend approval of a 41.6-acre landfill in northern Forsyth County came quickly — before neighbors had the opportunity to ask to be heard.
“Sir, this isn’t a public hearing,” Chris Leak, the chair of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Planning Board, told one man who rose to speak. Leak added that the vote “was simply a review” to determine whether the proposed landfill met the minimum requirements of the city and county’s Unified Development Ordinances, and that they would have the opportunity to speak when the matter comes up for a final vote by the Forsyth County Commissioners.
John Polite, a retired sheriff’s deputy who lives on a lane north of the proposed landfill, asked everyone opposed to rise. About 25 people, roughly half the room stood, and then filed into a narrow hallway as members of the planning board moved on to the next item in their agenda on Thursday. Chris Murphy, the deputy director for inspections, fielded questions outside in the hallway, while Margaret Bessette, the assistant director for planning, collected phone numbers so that neighbors could receive notice of the county commission hearing, likely sometime next month.
One member of the planning board, George Bryan, voted against recommending the landfill for approval, noting that the area plan calls for large-lot residential development. But most board members seemed to be satisfied with an explanation by Planning Director Aaron King that the current agricultural zoning allows landfills, and that the burden lies on opponents to make the case that the proposal isn’t consistent with the area plan.
“I’m finding that a hard sell,” Bryan said, adding that approval would constitute a “bait and switch.”
The proposed landfill, located three miles outside of Winston-Salem off a highway leading to Germanton, has drawn swift opposition from neighbors. Classed for “land clearing/inert debris,” the landfill includes a 200-feet buffer from the property line, but will contain no lining.
With about three days’ notice from a realtor, neighbors said about 50 people showed up for a meeting on Tuesday on the side of the highway organized by the landfill operator to answer their questions. One of the neighbors, John S. Young, quickly put up a website. Two days later, after the planning board meeting, the neighbors thronged the lobby of the Bryce Stuart Municipal Building and made plans to order yard signs.
Adam Stewart, who plans to operate the landfill, is the owner of Stewart’s Grading and Hauling, a general contractor based two miles up the road in Germanton. Stewart expresses little patience with the neighbors’ concerns, contending that they’re reflexively opposing him without taking the time study his plan.
“It’s inert debris, tree limbs, anything that’s not going to hurt the environment,” Stewart said in an interview. “It will take concrete, asphalt. If they’ll read the plan, it states the different areas that we’re going to take materials. When the stump pile gets too big, we’ll bring in a grinder, and sell the product for mulch. If the concrete pile gets too big, we’ll bring in a crusher and break it down into rock to re-sell. It’s more of a recycling center than a dump. There will be no trash, no shingles.”
Michael Schmid, whose property backs up to the north side of the proposed landfill, said he worries about pollution from the site running downhill into a creek that runs through his backyard.
“I’m worried about leaking oil from the equipment that could be up there running down the hill and into the stream that empties into Buffalo Creek,” he said. “They’re going to be grinding concrete. It contains silica dust. It’s definitely a cancer-causing agent.”
Stewart responded that in addition to the 200-foot buffer around the landfill, the heavy machinery will operate another 600 feet inside the perimeter.
“If we’re leaking oil and it runs that far, we’ve got a problem,” he said. He added that he does not think that there’s a reasonable health and safety concern about people who live in the area being exposed to silica dust.
Erosion Control Manager Matthew Osborne said the county requires developers to keep sediment, including airborne particles, on the premises.
“To control dust and to keep the material damp — there’s no regulation that deals with dust — it’s good housekeeping to maintain a practice of using a water truck if there are dusty or dry conditions,” Osborne said. Along with operation areas, that includes the driveway from the access point on the main highway to the interior of the site.
The county’s erosion inspectors will typically visit sites once a month, depending on their workload, Osborne said. Regulation is “limited to what we observe during routine inspection. If dust becomes a problem, we rely on citizens to say, ‘Hey, the dust is bad today,’ and we’ll make a special trip out there.”
Neighbors also cite the potential noise from stump-grinding, concrete-crushing and trucks delivering materials as a reason for their opposition.
“That’s our forever here,” Polite said. “We’ve got a tranquil area. We’ve got people with health concerns. I’ve got a noise concern. It’s gonna affect the quality of our life. To have a landfill in our community, if they were putting in a housing development that would increase our property values, that would be one thing. This could decrease the value of our homes and make it harder to sell.”
The current site plan review on file with the planning department limits hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“We are changing our business hours,” Stewart told Triad City Beat. “I’m not going to tell you what the times will be. We’re going to change our grinding hours.”
Both the landfill operator and its opponents cite the impending construction of the Winston-Salem Urban Loop, which will traverse the northeast corner of Winston-Salem from Highway 52 down to Business 40 and run to the south of the proposed site.
“Yes, there’s gonna be some noise,” Stewart said. “Do they not think when this interstate comes through we’re gonna get some more noise? Do you think you’re going to have needs in this area for all these things that we’re doing? Yeah.”
Polite and others said Germanton Road is heavily traveled. He added that there are no stop signs from Highway 66 at the outskirts of Winston-Salem to Highway 65, just outside of Germanton.
“Accidents happen out there quite a bit,” Polite said. “If the speed limit is 55, they’re driving 65.”
Stewart said that if neighbors don’t think the roadway is capable of accommodating increased traffic loads from the landfill, that’s a matter best taken up with the NC Department of Transportation.
Neighbors said they believe Stewart is incentivized to open the landfill because he has a contract to clear land in the area for the Urban Loop. But Aaron Moody, a spokesperson for the NC Department of Transportation said neither Stewart nor his company holds any contracts for the project
Meanwhile, after losing the first vote at the planning board on Thursday, the residents girded for a fight.
Calling the attention of the crowd milling in the lobby at Stuart Municipal Building, Polite said, “If we don’t say nothing, we know what’s gonna happen. Don’t get discouraged. It’s gonna be a long process.”