⇒ Background: “Where should Orange County stick its garbage?” (cover story, March 11, 2009)

Building and operating a waste transfer station would cost Orange County taxpayers roughly $55 million over 20 yearsless than the cost of paying private companies to haul trash over the same time period, according to a draft report issued by the county’s consultant last week.

County leaders had requested the report as part of their final-hour survey of alternative options for waste disposal, including the temporary use of private waste haulers. Charlotte-based firm Olver was paid $254,000 to implement a 16-month long site-selection process that has narrowed the county’s choices for a transfer station down to two sites along N.C. 54 in southwestern Orange County.

“The issue for us is not whether 54 is a good site or not,” Olver representative James Reynolds told the Orange County Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) at a March 31 meeting. “The county has gone through an elaborate process that got you there. You don’t want to just abandon that totally.”

As a designer and planner of solid waste facilities, including a proposed transfer station on Eubanks Road that commissioners abandoned in favor of the site-selection process, Olver could eventually earn a design contract for the project it’s recommendingand could lose out if Orange County gives up on a transfer station entirely.

In presenting the argument for building a transfer station, the consultants showed a 20-year graph comparing the annual costs of operating a site along N.C. 54 with several private-hauler optionsraising doubt from one official who was there.

“I’m not sure that graph answers my question,” said Commissioner Steve Yuhasz.

Capital costs are spread out over 20 years, making it impossible to compare the contractual risks of hiring a private contractor with the long-term costs of investing in a county-run facility. Olver projects that those costsincluding land acquisition, development and constructionwill total less than $5 million, a figure substantially lower than had previously been estimated.

Olver achieved that figure, in part, by recommending the county purchase just 25 acres, for a total of $375,000. However, that estimate is at odds with the proposed sites’ property owners: one is demanding $3 million for a 143-acre property, and the other refuses to sell.

Furthermore, Olver now recommends a scaled-down version of the transfer station it originally proposed. The station would now contain one bay, instead of two, and would not contain an on-site recycling centerthe rationale for favoring larger sites, such as the 143-acre property, in the site-selection process.

Other numbers raised eyebrows, including the distance Olver calculated from the N.C. 54 sites to Chapel Hill (8 miles), shorter than the projected distance to Carrboro (8.7 miles). In fact, the proposed sites are roughly 8 miles west of Carrboro and 11 miles west of Chapel Hill.

A response from the SWAB is forthcoming, and the final report will be delivered to commissioners in advance of an April 21 meeting.