Hartsell amendment may clear way for Griffin landfill

Jul. 11, 2013 @ 04:39 PM

The Griffin Farms Landfill in Unionville could reopen due to an amendment on a state bill. 

The amendment, added by Senator Fletcher Hartsell who represents Cabarrus and Union Counties, exempts certain landfills from franchise agreements. The bill itself, House Bill 321, deals with local governments and solid waste management.

The amendment reads: "Notwithstanding any provision of this section, no franchise for the operation of a sanitary landfill shall be required from a local government if the property on which the landfill is located is incorporated within a local government's boundaries by act of the General Assembly after 1997 and the landfill was validly operating in another jurisdiction prior to the time the legislative act became effective. This subdivision only applies to sanitary landfills for the disposal of construction and demolition debris that had a permit from the Department to operate the landfill on January 1, 2008."

Hartsell said in an interview that he "readily acknowledges" that the amendment is to grandfather the Griffin Farms landfill. He said he had never met Richard Griffin, who runs the landfill, until a week ago. He said people questioned whether or not it was appropriate to grandfather the landfill, particularly in that bill. 

"In looking at that, I just checked out a few things and it appeared to me that was entirely appropriate," Hartsell said. 

Hartsell said the dispute was "a convoluted situation" and that there was a lot of "finger pointing." He said he read and skimmed the federal court opinion and had no issue with their findings. 

"My problem, the problem that I see in the situation is that the town, which is probably at best a paper town..sort of did and stopped it," Hartsell said. 

He said that he chaired the new municipal incorporations commission for many years and looked at the standards for what is and is not a town.

"Quite honestly, Unionville doesn't qualify under the standards to establish a town now," Hartsell said. 

Hartsell said he visited the landfill site last weekend. He said the site is surrounded by chicken houses and it is more rural in nature than otherwise. 

Hartsell said he visited the area because there are several towns in Union County and other parts of the state that were established under the old standards and are not what current statutes would consider a town. 

He added that there is "actually need in some of these faster growing areas for construction and demolition." He noted that the amendment only applied to construction and demolition landfills. 

Hartsell said he felt the location was an appropriate site in an appropriate place. 

"I thought it was the right thing to do," Hartsell said. 

Unionville residents and government officials were caught by surprise when Representative Dean Arp, R-69, called them about the amendment. 

"We had no idea that it was there," Unionville Mayor Larry Simpson said. 

He said they were not sure of the bill status as of Wednesday, but hoped to get the amendment dropped. 

The town has been involved with multiple lawsuits over the landfill, with an appeal going to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. in 2009. 

"Every legal action that has been taken so far, the town has been the winner," Simpson said. 

The most recent legal action came last year, when the Unionville Town Council denied Richard Griffin's landfill franchise application.

Unionville Resident Beth Walker found the amendment "very disappointing."

"I feel like the town has legally and responsibly fought the landfill for years," she said. 

Arp hopes to reach some sort of agreement with the Senate on removing or broadening the amendment's language. 

"What I'm trying to do is make sure that everybody plays by the same rules," Arp said. "Circumventing those rules, by virtue of legislation, I think is improper."

Arp said the law would make this landfill the only one in the state that gets "special treatment." 

Arp said that Griffin let their franchise agreement lapse to avoid upgrades. He said he is advocating that the landfill in Unionville go through the process every other landfill must go through. 

Hartsell said he respected what Arp said. 

"We create grandfathering situations all the time," Hartsell said. "It's not uncommon to grandfather something." 

He intends to ask the house not to concur with the senate bill so they can go to a conference. He said apart from the amendment, it is an otherwise good piece of legislation. 

Griffin wrote in an e-mail that they are free to engage in the government policymaking process like any family business. 

"Senator Hartsell is the senior member of Union County's entire legislative delegation and it is likely that he has long been aware of the injustice done to our family business by an overreaching local government," Griffin wrote. "With the passage of our amendment by the entire state senate, it is clear we have statewide support."

Griffin wrote they will continue to fight against "against personal vendettas and misinformation with truth, facts, faith in our system of government and a strong commitment to improving the economic climate of our community in am environmentally responsible manner. The landfill will only be used for construction and demolition waste, not municipal waste."

Griffin wrote that he appreciated the support of the state senate and hoped the house would also pass the legislation, including the amendment.

"As conservative business owners, our family strongly favors private property rights and ethical, responsible business practices at all facilities and enterprises affiliated with KAR Services, LLC," Griffin wrote. "The landfill division of our family enterprise was unfairly targeted and shut down by an overreaching local government, and we will continue to fight back until this injustice is corrected. We care deeply about this community and want it to grow and prosper. We appreciate the support of the North Carolina Senate and we call upon the House to follow suit in a spirit of conservative limited government, private property rights and free enterprise."

As of Thursday, the bill is out of committee and awaiting placement on the calendar.