Chatham County will continue to export its trash after Chatham County officials on Tuesday halted an 18-month search for a new landfill.

The Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 to stop looking for a site in Chatham County; Brian Bock, Pamela Stewart and Walter Petty cast votes; Commissioners Sally Kost and Mike Cross were absent due to health reasons.

The public hearings scheduled for Jan. 19, Jan. 20 and Feb. 9, have been canceled.

Chatham County citizens, especially those living near the nine proposed sites (see PDF of nine sites), had been concerned about where the landfill would be located.

Chatham County has a three-year contract with Waste Management to ship garbage 81 miles to a landfill in Sampson County.

Bock, Petty and Stewart say they have received hundreds of e-mails from constituents alarmed by the prospect of a regional or local landfill. No one, they say, spoke in favor of constructing a landfill in the county.

“We all know there are enormous environmental impacts associated with a landfill,” said Petty, “and we need to look at other alternatives.”

Bock said last year he supported a landfill in Chatham County, but that his perceptions of the project quickly shifted after speaking with residents, including those from Hickory Mountain and the Preserve Chatham County, citizens’ groups that opposed it.

Petty concluded that a landfill is only affordable if it accepts waste from other counties, allowing Chatham County to generate money from disposal fees. Instead, Petty said, Chatham County must focus on more recycling and reducing waste. Chatham County generates 180 tons of trash per day.

The county’s old unlined landfill was closed in 1993, and has since leaked contaminants including chromium, barium and lead, into nearby groundwater, according to N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources documents. Four sites proposed for the new landfill were located within one mile of the former landfill. Forty-five of 47 families in that area, including East Alston Road, are African-American. (See PDF of landfill site map for Buckner Clark Road.)

Ernest Alston lives on East Alston Road, within 150 feet of the old landfill and less than 200 feet away from two of the proposed sites. The community is not connected to a public water system and relies on private wells. According to DENR documents, since 2007, three private wells in that area have been found to be contaminated by substances leaking from the old landfill.