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Bertie Board continues landfill battle

WINDSOR – The line remains drawn in the sand.

Tuesday evening the Bertie County Commissioners made it clear they will fight the intention of Republic Services, who operates the East Carolina Environmental (ECE) landfill in Bertie County, to charge its citizens $2.75 per ton for household trash disposal.

The commissioners were informed in April that Republic planned to begin charging Bertie County citizens $2.75 per ton for household waste. That came on the heels of North Carolina legislation that will charge landfill owners an additional $2 per ton. Republic insisted the law required the charge to be passed on to those using the landfill.

The commissioners objected to the increase saying the legislation did not require it to be passed on and that their contract did not allow citizens to be charged for use of the landfill.

They instructed County Attorney Lloyd Smith to draft a letter to Republic opposing the fee since it was not allowed under terms of the contract entered into when the regional landfill came to Bertie County. If Republic didn’t relent, the letter demanded arbitration.

The letter was mailed May 5 to Steven D. Weber of Parker, Poe, Adams and Bernstein, who represents Republic Services of North Carolina.

The letter quoted the original contract which said, “[in] consideration thereof, East Carolina desires to provide Bertie County with an indefinite moratorium on the tipping fees provided in Section 8 below, thereby providing the citizens of Bertie County with free disposal of all residential waste generated within the county.”

The letter went on to demand arbitration if Republic did not relent on their plans to charge citizens in Bertie County.

“Subject to documents from you, ECE or Republic demonstrating clearly that Section 7 of the Contract has been abrogated or some internal document justifying that a $41,250 cost to ECE or Republic creates a material, adverse and substantial inability to operate the Landfill, Bertie County stands by its position that the citizens of this county are entitled to free disposal,” Smith wrote in the letter. “If we cannot agree on this position and in the event that ECE or Republic proceeds with its demanded increase, we will demand arbitration.”

Tuesday evening Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb informed the commissioners that he would not allow the fee to be passed on to the citizens of Bertie County or any towns in the county. Instead, he said if Republic started charging the fee, it would be taken from the host fee Bertie County collected.

Smith, however, said Republic could not start charging the fee because they had not answered the letter demanding arbitration.

Lamb said he had been informed a letter was coming this week or next, but was not told what Republic’s answer would be.

“You’ve marched me up to the line,” Smith told the commissioners. “I need to know whether you want me to shoot or fall back.”

“Shoot” was the answer in chorus from the board.

Commissioner Rick Harrell said if the board backed off now, the landfill operators would begin charging the fee.

Smith said, “If there is anything in that contract that allows them to charge that 75 cents, I’ll eat it in front of you. I don’t believe they can charge the $2, but there is no provision for the 75 cents. An arbitrator could disagree, but I don’t think so.”

Commission Chairman Norman M. Cherry said he felt the ball was now in Republic’s court.

Smith said with the close proximity of the July 1 deadline, he needed to know what steps the board would have him take. He said the board could file formal notice of arbitration and, if the fee was charged to Bertie County citizens July 1, could seek an injunction from the Chief Superior Court Judge in Bertie County.

Lamb suggested the board take action to authorize Smith to take steps necessary to stop the fee from being charged to citizens up to and including going to court.

Commission Vice Chairman L.C. Hoggard III made the motion to authorize Smith to proceed with Commissioner Charles L. Smith offering a second. It passed without objection.