Concerns about the Sampson County Landfill were addressed this week as part of the county’s planning session, a talk that served to dispel some misconceptions and shine the light on some lesser-known aspects of an operation many utilize and still many others pass by regularly traveling N.C. 24.
Commissioner Harry Parker previously voiced some concerns regarding the landfill and said earlier this week that he felt the planning session was a good forum for the board to receive information and have a general discussion with Bryan Wuester, manager for the Sampson County Landfill, which is operated by Raleigh-based Waste Industries.
“That is my district and my constituents are very interested in that area,” Parker said. “They had some questions.”
“It is a big business and there is a lot goes on there,” said Wuester. “People don’t realize how complex an operation it is.”
A Sampson native, Wuester said he lives two miles from the site, something he thinks is important. He is vested in the community and has heard public concerns, and said he wanted to be transparent.
“We try not to hide behind any smoke or mirrors,” he remarked. “We want full transparency, not just with county government but with residents in that area. We are proud of what we do.”
The Sampson landfill accepts waste from North Carolina only, about 5,450 tons from 16 different counties a day. While there are numerous municipal landfills that accept trash only from within their respective counties, Sampson is a regional site that accepts from various surrounding counties, and is permitted to accept from all 100 counties. However, that line of demarcation for acceptance is typically a 100-mile radius.
Wuester went over the steps to which landfill officials must adhere.
First, landfill operators verify the waste is generated in the approved service area. Then, analysis is submitted to a third-party engineering firm to ensure it meets state and federal waste guidelines, Lastly, it is assigned a unique profile number and each accepted load is required to have a manifest tracking both when material was delivered and how much.
Profiling, Wuester noted, requires landfill officials to analyze waste annually to verify it is indeed non-hazardous and make sure all waste rules are being followed. That said, all waste received at the landfill is generated within this state’s borders and meets waste characteristic guidelines as dictated by those state and federal regulations, Wuester asserted.
“I have 27 employees I am responsible for. They don’t need to be playing around in radioactive waste. They don’t need to be playing around in green goose sludge. That’s not what we’re about,” Wuester said, noting other misconceptions. “A lot of folks think we’re taking waste from everywhere, railing it in, barging it in, flying it in — that is not the case. We only accept waste from North Carolina.”
Sampson is accepting plenty of trash from other counties. Wuester said that is a good thing.
“When you see a county like Cumberland, right next door to us, that has their own county landfill and we still receive half the waste generated in that county, that just shows the effort we’re putting in to maximize our asset,” said Wuester.
The landfill accepts three kinds of waste: construction and demolition materials, solid waste and special waste, which are byproducts of industry.
No coal ash comes into the Sampson facility, but does handle tri-fuel ash. Tri-fuel ash falls into the special waste category and the landfill accepts 287 tons each day of tri-fuel ash — made up of 60 percent wood, 30 percent tire and 10 percent coal — from Southport, representing about 5 to 6 percent of the average daily tonnage.
“I’m glad you said that because I have people telling me we’re getting stuff from New York and New Jersey, radioactive stuff,” Commissioner Albert Kirby said.
“They’re bringing it on barges,” Chairman Billy Lockamy added, alluding to concerns he’s heard.
Commissioner Clark Wooten said that belief is likely fueled by trucks coming in and out of the landfill area with out-of-state license plates. While the smaller trucks have N.C. plates, some of the transfer trucks, including those stationed at Custom Ecology Inc. (CPI) across N.C. 24, has operations in Tennessee, South Carolina and other states.
There are hundreds of 20- to 22-ton trucks each day that come in and out of the site, especially with the county’s busiest convenience site also located at the front of the N.C. 24 property, Wuester noted.
A “high acceptance rate” means the in excess of 5,000 tons of trash accepted each day translates to about 7,000 yards a day, “so we’re constantly building roads and turnarounds and things like that,” Wuester stated. “It’s amazing. People don’t realize how quickly we move with the waste we accept. It’s almost a little city. We have stormwater, wastewater, electric, power generation. We’re filling and covering.”
All totaled, the landfill property extends over about 1,315 acres, some of which is designated wetlands. There are about 250 trucks a day that visit the property and, at the current rate of acceptance, the landfill has about 26 years left.
“There is nowhere for us to expand unless there was property acquisition,” Wuester said.
Waste is collected, compacted, covered and monitored. Landfill leachate, wastewater drained from the landfill, is evaporated through an operation started in August 2012. Daily, the facility evaporates 31,000 gallons of leachate per day, more than 30 million gallons to date. A liner system is in place to keep dirty water in and clean water outside the landfill.
“That’s the biggest piece there is,” Wuester said.
That city has shrunk 8 feet — from 238 feet above sea level to 230 feet — over the past 13 years. A flyover is done every January and a bird’s-eye picture taken of the landfill. Landfill officials tally the total tons accepted and compare it to the amount of airspace consumed, and that gives the annual incident.
Gas is turned into a resource, with methane harvested to provide clean energy for local communities. Last year, enough electricity was generated to power nearly 6,000 homes.
There are innovations to managing solid waste, Wuester said, but they are costly. Essentially, the landfill is a utility, one for which the county receives host fees. It is a business, Wuester said.
“We’re no different than electric, water or sewer. People expect the water to go away when they flush the toilet, the garbage to be taken from the curb and the lights to come on, and they don’t want to pay a lot for it,” he attested. “We have accepted the fact we are a utility and we manage as such. You’re never going to get accolades running a landfill. Everybody hates you and if nobody is yelling at you, you’re doing a good job. It’s like being an umpire — the best ones are the ones you don’t know. If you know who they are, they’re messing up.”
He said that was the reason he wanted to talk to commissioners, who he invited to the landfill for a tour. It’s all about building awareness in the community.
“People’s imaginations are our worst enemies. That’s why we do as many tours as we do,” Wuester said. “If we can get kids to understand how we do it, they go back and say how they saw the equipment, how we manage the waste and what we do on a daily basis to protect the environment.
“All of a sudden, maybe we can start to change the perception of the industry as a whole,” the landfill manager continued. “We think we are good at what we do and we do a good job of being environment stewards for this county and surrounding counties. We are proud of what we do.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.