With time running out and little to no progress on breaking ground on a new, privatized trash and recycling center in Albemarle County, supervisors unanimously voted late Wednesday night to extend the county’s contract with the public Rivanna Solid Waste Authority for another year.
The move effectively buys the county more time — until June 2015 — to consider new sites for the first of three “convenience centers” that eventually will replace the Rivanna-operated Ivy Material Utilization Center, also known as the Ivy Transfer Station. But it comes at a cost: About $375,000, according to the county’s director of community development, Mark Graham.
All the same, the news was met with a standing ovation Wednesday night in a crowded auditorium, where Albemarle residents had turned out in droves to protest the two primary sites under consideration for the convenience center: one in rural Keene, another in the area of the Mill Creek subdivision within the county’s urban ring.
Peggy Boatwright said she’s lived in Keene for nearly five decades. She said a new trash and recycling center in the area would not only mar the nearly pristine landscape, but pull hundreds of cars onto already dangerous country roads.
“Take a look at what you’re doing to us in our nice, little, rural, quiet town,” Boatwright asked supervisors. “You’ll put a dump there among us, right in the middle of Keene.”
Meanwhile, Mill Creek-area residents argued that a convenience center in their backyard would be positioned within a half-mile of three area schools and a future nursing home, as well as recreational areas, businesses and pedestrian-oriented streets.
“I would never have bought a house in Mill Creek if I had known a dump was going to be there,” said resident Mary Maldonado. “And I can guarantee you that future homebuyers are going feel the same way. Our property values will go down.”
But the debate between residents and supervisors began long before Wednesday’s public hearing.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted in October to dump the Rivanna-operated Ivy center — a facility with growing maintenance costs and a shrinking customer base — in favor of hiring a private contractor to run convenience centers at a cost savings of $240,000 per year.
Graham estimated the cost of each new facility would run the county $400,000 to $500,000.
The solid waste authority last year was contracted to operate the Ivy center through June, when supervisors planned to have the first of the three convenience centers up and running.
“It was a very, very tight schedule,” Graham said.
With time so tight, Graham and county staff were directed to only review county-owned properties for potential fits. No new acquisitions would be considered.
The frontrunner? A seven-acre tract on Esmont Road just off Route 20 in Keene.
“There was no perfect site,” Graham told supervisors last year. But, after much consideration “this was the best we could find.”
Supervisors, however, disagreed.
Former Supervisor Duane E. Snow, who held a town hall on the matter late last year at Red Hill Elementary School, said a number of county residents were concerned that a convenience center in Esmont could considerably back up traffic on Route 20.
“A lot of people don’t want it there,” Snow said at the time. “I know time is of the essence, but I think we’re going down the wrong path if we don’t give people the opportunity to weigh in on it.”
Former Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker and now-board Chairwoman Jane Dittmar pushed for county staff to review an alternative site, on Mill Creek Drive.
“We visited this in July and we discounted the Mill Creek area only because it was in the northern part of the service area,” Dittmar said last year.
Despite that, Mill Creek’s size and proximity to Interstate 64 makes it a better option than Keene, she said.
Although county staff urged supervisors to make a decision before time ran out on the contract at the Ivy center, supervisors agreed there was just too little public input on the project to continue in confidence.
If the number of residents who responded to the new suggestion was any indication, supervisors were right.
“Everybody’s got trash and nobody wants it, I get that,” Mill Creek resident Miles Weiss said at a crowded community meeting in the forum of Monticello High School last month. “I don’t want a dump in my backyard, where my schools are, where my home is, where businesses are, where I drive every day, where I live, work, recreate. It’s the wrong facility at the wrong place.”
In December and again Wednesday night, Mill Creek homeowners raised concerns over noise pollution, odors, rodents, vermin and increased car and truck traffic all stemming from a convenience center near their homes.
Weiss was just one of dozens of residents also expressed frustration with the county’s bureaucratic language.
“Since the county insists on calling a dump a ‘convenience center,’” Weiss told the board Wednesday, “I’m deciding I’m no longer ‘bald.’”
After three hours of public comment, supervisors relented.
“I’m not ready to rush and close the Ivy transfer station right now in my opinion,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel. “I’d like to see what else we can do that would not mean locating something at Keene or at Mill Creek right now.”
Dittmar, in her new role as board chairwoman, moved that the board “suspend any further consideration of any convenience center location until such time as the county completes an evaluation of long-term strategies for solid waste management services and develops a public process for vetting specific approaches with our citizens.”
The motion, which passed unanimously, was met with a standing ovation.