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Landfill contract OK'd after debate

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Pasquotank commissioners renewed the county's contract with its landfill operators Monday, but not before an at-times contentious discussion.

The contract with Stevenson Sand and R&D Excavating Company requires the firms to handle day-to-day operations at the county's hills for construction and demolition materials and land clearing and inert debris.

The exact value of the contract is unclear — the companies will be paid based on how much debris enters the landfill — but the companies were paid about $1.26 million over the last three years for normal landfill operations, according to County Manager Rodney Bunch. The contract also set the terms under which the county hired the companies for smaller jobs that totaled about $34,000 over three years.

Given the large cost of landfill operations, Commissioner Frankie Meads urged commissioners on Monday to seek competitive bids, not just award the work to Stevenson and R&D.

He also suggested that seeking bids would reassure the public about landfill operations.

“We've heard so much talk about the landfill over the last six or eight years that I think it's fair for the public and fair for commissioners to at least put it out on bid,” Meads said, though he also conceded Stevenson and R&D may still prove the best choice for the work.

In a rare disagreement with a commissioner, Bunch took issue with Meads suggesting there had been problems at the landfill.

“These people have been doing the work out there, and you haven't heard that they've done anything wrong; you insinuate that when you say” there's been talk about the landfill, Bunch said. “I told you, DENR has been here and made inspections; they have no violations noted. They have done exactly what we hired them to do.”

Bunch was referring to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the former name of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

Though Meads didn't specify who had expressed concerns about the landfill, Commissioner Jeff Dixon apparently thought they were a reference to James Morris, a vocal critic of landfill operations about four years ago. 

“Commissioner Meads wants to bring up old dirt, old rumors, whatever, that had nothing to do with the contractors,” he said. . (A) gentleman was out there taking pictures, (a) gentleman was out there talking to employees, trying to find any dirt he could on the former director of solid waste, not the contractor.”

By former director of solid waste, Dixon was referring to Michael Etheridge, who retired last year.

Dixon also noted that Pasquotank could award the landfill contract without seeking bids, based on Stevenson and R&D being the best choice for the job. He said the companies are already working to expand the county's construction and debris hill, which seeks to extend the landfill's life by decades.

“I think it's very critical that we continue with this contractor,” Dixon said.

Meads disputed Dixon's comments, reiterating he felt competitive bids would improve public trust in the landfill.

“My intention is not to bring up anything, it's to quiet the community down from the questions that they have used for probably 10 years or more about the way that we operate it,” Meads said.

Taking issue with Meads repeatedly debating with other commissioners, Dixon argued he was “out of order” and called for commissioners to immediately vote on whether to bid out the contract.

Board Vice Chairman Bill Sterritt, who was chairing the meeting, said Meads wasn't out of order, but still called for the vote.

Meads and Sterritt voted for putting the contract out on bid, but Dixon, Chairman Cecil Perry and Commissioner Bettie Parker voted against the motion. Also opposed was Commissioner Joe Winslow, whom commissioners allowed to vote by phone, despite County Attorney Michael Cox expressing concerns about counting votes by remote participation.

Absent was Commissioner Lloyd Griffin. The majority of commissioners present then voted to award the contract, which runs through 2021.

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