I AM A RESIDENT EXPERT on waste disposal landfills. I used to live next to one. My apartment complex abutted the Chesapeake, Virginia, city landfill. My building sat closer to the working landfill than my current house does to my neighbor's house across the street. My then two-year-old son used to spend his time looking out the window watching the bulldozers work. He enjoyed the landfill.
The mountains of garbage appeared to reach higher than the tops of the apartment buildings. And when I say mountains, I mean mountains -- like Mount Trashmore, the highest point of elevation above sea level in Virginia Beach, a city bordering on Chesapeake.
When watching the trash dump next door grow grew boring, sometimes I would take our family to play on one: Mount Trashmore, the 165-acre recreation area with hills 60-feet high and over 800 feet long. Mount Trashmore was created by compacting layers of solid waste and clean soil.
Mount Trashmore Park includes multiple playground areas, 15 picnic shelters, a basketball court, four volleyball areas, a skateboard park, multiple walking trails, and two lakes where fishing is permitted. Ready for this? Since its opening in the 1970s, it ranks as the most popular park in Virginia Beach, with attendance of over one million visitors a year.
My point? Trash dumps, landfills as they are euphemistically known, are not all that bad. Carefully engineered and managed, they are not public health hazards when in use and can be assets afterward. What is a public nuisance, public health hazard and waste of time, energy and money is sending our garbage to someone else's community so they can take care of it.
The real waste of a waste transfer station is not where it is placed -- but that we are planning to build one at all. It's our trash, let's take responsibility for it. I once studied a map of Orange County -- and there's lots of land here.
I have often said that Chapel Hill is in favor of every good thing -- somewhere else. The wasted transfer site is another great example of that. The only explanation I can think of describes many decisions by the town of Chapel Hill in dealing with things we all wish we didn't have to deal with: Here, take this money and build your (fill in the blank) -- just not in my backyard. We would love an AIDS hospice -- somewhere else. We would love a clubhouse for those with mental illness -- somewhere else. We would love a place for the homeless -- somewhere else.
What's the point of all this? Chapel Hill and Orange County don't need to be debating about waste transfer sites. We don't need a waste transfer site. We need a new landfill and one in our county -- and energy, efficiency and safety say it should be in or close to Chapel Hill -- just like our old one.
I suggest that a new county landfill be placed inside of Chapel Hill -- given that a majority of its trash comes from Chapel Hill. And given that a good fraction of Chapel Hill's garbage comes from the University, I have a radical, and not altogether jesting, proposal. The new landfill should be built on the proposed Carolina North tract. There is plenty of space there, nearly 1000 acres. Such a landfill site wouldn't prevent Carolina North from being built, but would make use of some of the property in the meantime – before the landfill is turned into a nice park.
This would make lots of people happy: those opposing the proposed waste transfer sites; those living near the current landfill; those who don't like the Horace Williams airport; and those in Orange County who think that Chapel Hill should keep their garbage to themselves.
Given the common sense of this proposal, I am sure all parties involved will easily agree to it.
Gary D. Gaddy really did live next to a landfill once, and lived to tell about it.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday May 21, 2009.
Copyright 2009 Gary D. Gaddy