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'Moral issue': Residents near White Street Landfill remain opposed to dumping of toxic dirt

News & Record - 5/23/2024

May 23—GREENSBORO — Residents living near the White Street Landfill remained skeptical of plans to use it to dispose of toxic dirt from a city park.

The city sent out nearly 2,000 postcards advertising Wednesday's meeting to discuss the possibility of using the landfill to receive dirt from Bingham Park. A few dozen turned out to the Peeler Recreation Center Wednesday evening to hear a presentation from leaders in the Parks and Recreation Department and Office of Sustainability and Resilience.

In recent years, the city has been working to clean up the environmental contamination at Bingham Park, which is located off South English Street in southeast Greensboro in a predominantly Black neighborhood. The soil is laden with lead, arsenic and other heavy metals as a result of decades of use as a landfill between the 1920s and 1950s.

The city closed the park last month following revised guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Community members and city staff decided to conduct a full cleanup which will involve removing more than 11,400 dump truck loads of dirt from the property.

The big question before city officials and the public now is where the waste will go.

City officials and staff, including Councilwomen Sharon Hightower and Goldie Wells, Parks and Recreation Director Phil Fleischmann and Environmental and Compliance Support Manager Richard Lovett, have identified White Street as the most feasible location.

White Street is one of three landfills within a 75-mile radius of the city in a position to accept the waste. The others are in Asheboro and Troy.

White Street is the closest of the three, located roughly six miles from the park. Because of that, the cost to take the dirt there is the lowest among the options.

The cost, based on estimates that are one to two years old, is $24 to $27 million for White Street, $36 million for Asheboro and $54 million for Troy.

The city has received up to $12.1 million in state and federal funding for the project and could get an additional $7 to $10 million from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

White Street has long been a touchy topic in northeast Greensboro. Nearly 20 years ago, residents fought to have the landfill closed to household garbage. The landfill is now used for construction debris.

In order to use White Street, the city would have to amend its solid waste permit. City leaders have stressed the only change would be to allow the dirt from Bingham Park and not household waste. The process to change the permit would require a City Council resolution and public input.

During the meeting on Wednesday evening, city officials once again stressed the safety of the project. They said the waste would be transported in covered trucks along a route which would keep it away from most residents and that it would be going to a lined and regulated landfill.

Lovett said the city would recommend air quality testing at both Bingham Park and the landfill to ensure safety.

Still, many community members were not persuaded. They voiced concerns about the health impacts. Some speakers got emotional as they discussed their feeling that the community was being used as a dumping ground by the city.

Greensboro resident Lewis Brandon scoffed at the discussion of the cost.

"You keep talking about money. Greensboro has the ability to fund anything that they want to fund. Look at Tanger Center," Brandon said. "In the 67 years that I have been in Greensboro, I know of no social change, nothing come because it was the moral thing to do in this community. Every change you see in this community has come about because of lawsuits and demonstrations.

"You should not put this burden on White Street and you should not put this burden on any other community. This is a moral issue. Correct it."

Wells was impassioned as she reiterated her defense for using White Street. She pointed to the historic factors that led to landfills being placed in Black communities while accusing community members of being inconsiderate of their neighbors' plight.

Byron Gladden, a former Guilford County school board member, said the city should have a bond referendum and let the taxpayers decide on funding the cost.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan responded that there was not enough time for that. Vaughan also recalled her own efforts to ensure the landfill was closed to household waste as she pushed back against the idea of putting the matter up for a vote.

"We didn't say let's put the landfill closure to referendum, did we?" Vaughan said. "If we had, do you think it would have passed? Sometimes you have to make the tough decisions."

Cathy Johnson, another attendee, said residents need to come up with a plan for how to fight against the potential use of White Street.

"We as a community need to come up with a consequence," Johnson said. "That's our responsibility because they're not going to stop doing what they are doing.

"I'm tired of every place I go, Black folks suffering. Black folk, let's stand up."

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(c)2024 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)

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