Wake County News

Growing grievances: South Wake Landfill

HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. (WNCN) - Wake County’s landfill near Holly Springs was created with a 35 year life-span and although it’s just about a decade old - it continues to come into conflict with residents who live near it.

That’s because the urbanization of Holly Springs has turned a once remotely located landfill site into a next-door neighbor for thousands who’ve willingly moved in near it.

Every day - six days a week - hundreds of trash truck deposit Wake County’s unwanted refuse at the landfill. 

While at the same time, construction crews in Holly Springs clear land and prepare sites for development on a wide scale.

Much of that development is occurring in and around the South Wake Landfill in Holly Springs.

“We’re using every available space we have,” says realtor Nanette Leher of GO Realty in Holly Springs.

And that development is encroaching on the landfill, a landfill which used to have a pretty significant buffer zone.

“When this landfill was built almost 10 years ago the closest neighbor we had was close to a mile away,” explained Wake County Solid Waste Management Director John Roberson. “Now, many of those neighbors are within a half mile or so and in some cases within a thousand feet.”

So, CBS 17 went to the Town of Holly Springs to find out why it allowed developers to build so close to the landfill.

A few years ago, when subdivisions like Forest Springs were constructed, the town said it had no choice.

 “It met all of the ordinances for zoning and development. At that point you are legally obligated as a city to approve the plan,” said town spokeswoman Joni Powell. “We can’t tell property owners they can’t do with their property what they want to do, if it meets zoning ordinances.”

Jim Bright lives in the Forest Springs Subdivision which abuts the landfill and knew it was there when he bought his home.

“What bothers us more than anything is when we moved in six years ago, we couldn’t see it at all,” said Bright.

Now, it towers over the tree line, visible from his home’s third-floor windows as well as from on the street.

The proximity results in some annoying problems.

“Last year, we had a really bad problem with buzzards,” he said. "The tops of all these houses up and down here were lined with hundreds of them.”

The landfill also assaults the senses.

The county asks those who report odors tell them the time, wind direction and weather patterns in effect when the odors were detected. You can file an odor complaint here.

“It’s the constant back-up sirens on the trucks in the landfill that are in and out. The bulldozing, and all those kind of things,’’ said Don Peterson who rents a home in that subdivision.

He said he didn’t realize the landfill was next to his neighborhood when he rented.

But, homeowners like James Bright knew it was there and he said in the last six years, he’s gotten about a dozen nasal reminders of the landfill’s presence.

“It’s definitely not pleasant when you are downwind. The only way I can describe it is kind of a rotten garbage smell,” he said.

To try and mitigate that aroma, the landfill uses a piping system along its borders which contains tiny holes that spurt jets of air into the atmosphere to help dilute the smell carried by the wind.

It also uses a patented process called Posi-Shell.

That system uses a blend of clay binders, reinforcing fibers and polymers that are sprayed on the accumulated trash at the end of the day to encapsulate it to help keep down the smell.

Even so, the county receives odor complaints on a regular basis and keeps track of them as part of its periodic newsletter.

Holly Springs officials said the town is now getting more involved with the county to deal with the odor issue.

“This is an ongoing dialog we have to have so as there are improvements or better ways to approach odor mitigation, then we should have them considering that,’ said newly elected Councilwoman Christine Kelly, who says she has toured the landfill to see what it’s doing to make it a better neighbor.

The county also pumps methane out of the landfill to help keep the odors down and then uses that gas to create electricity.

“It’s generating about 5.6 megawatts and does that 24/7,’’ said Roberson.

He said the electricity which is generated is sold to Duke Energy and powers between five and 10,000 Holly Spring homes near the landfill - homes that continue to be built and sold.

Despite their proximity to the landfill, those who live near it say they don’t have trouble selling their homes.

And real estate agents agree.

“The development in Forest Springs, you could put a house on the market like my partner and I did, and within the weekend, it was gone in two days,” said Lehr.

Bright agrees saying his next door neighbor put his house up for sale and it sold ”just like that.”

He said, “That’s the norm here.”

And it’s not just homes that abut the landfill that are selling.

Lehr showed CBS 17 a map of the town and pointed out what she called multi-million dollars homes that have been bought and sold regularly.

She said sales of them “aren’t affected by having the landfill so close them as well.”

Realtors are required to inform people of things like the landfill.

“Here in Holly Springs, we are disclosing the landfill and because we are close to the Harris Nuclear power plant and we are disclosing that as well,” said Lehr.

She said neither disclosure seems to keep people from moving to Holly Springs.

So, why do people keep building and buying in Holly Springs?  

Lehr believes it’s the right combination of location, access and price.

“Interstate-540 is here and it’s a great commute time to the RTP area,” she said. “And, up here you can still find land and the home prices are still affordable.”

For its part, Wake County tries to minimize the landfill’s impact, but the town’s desire to expand its tax-base and developers desire to sell homes creates a conflict that’s tough to resolve.

“We can’t control that development,” said Roberson.

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