ReVenture may be on pause

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Tom McKittrick
  • Tom McKittrick

The proposed eco-industrial park known as ReVenture may be on pause. (If you need to get caught up on ReVenture news, check out my article from the February issue of Charlotte magazine, "ReVenture Under Review," and The Charlotte Business Journal's "Going Green" blog by Susan Stabley. Note: because the project is "evolving" so fast, some of the information in my article became outdated between the time the magazine went to print and the time it hit stands.)

The ReVenture Advisory Council gave the project a thumbs in January up with an 8-3 vote. They'd spent several months reviewing the project, which includes Meckenburg County paying it to take our trash for 20 years.

The problem with the advisory board's decision is that some of the members on the council had conflicts of interest and never should have been on the council to begin with. What's more, the council wasn't allowed to know what type of gasification-incineration hybrid technology would be used at the project's trash-gobbling waste-to-energy plant until a month before they had to make a decision. Keep in mind, this is new technology  that's never been used commercially before that's supposed to be built and maintained by companies that don't have a track records in that type of business — and it is slated to rest on the edge of the Catawba River, across the way from Mount Holly.

After the RAC's thumbs up, the project went to the county's Waste Management Advisory Board, who was hoping to do a quick review and pass the thumbs up on to the County Commission. Problem is, its board also had people with conflicts of interest who, the county's attorney determined, shouldn't have been involved in discussions or votes on the matter.

Well, after a few weeks of community members raising "WTF-I've-never-heard-of-this-project-before" and "you-want-to-put-what-in-my-air?!" red flags, accompanied by the usual amount of political wrangling once a quick-moving projects catches the attention of the public, the WMAB decided to punt and throw community members and environmentalists who want answers to their questions about safety, health impacts and environmental concerns a bone.

The project, conceived and announced less than two years ago, has soared through legislative halls, even picking up special treatment from the N.C. General Assembly. Now, if the county commissioners follow the WMAB's advice, the project will have to slow down, hire an internationally-known engineering expert  — not a local yokel who could be manipulated by any side — to do a thorough review of ReVenture Park's plans, which Tom McKittrick, the main man behind the project, says he welcomes.

The big push, so we little people are told, is that the county's garbage contract with Republic Services expires in June 2012, a contract the waste management company tells me they're happy to renew. (Reminder: ReVenture undercut Republic's price and promised to only raise it 3 percent per year, offering the county a minor sense of stability. P.S.: The contract with ReVenture is for 20 years.)

Another big push: tens of millions in federal stimulus dollars. At first, the project was racing toward a Dec. 31, 2010 deadline for those monies, now they've got until Dec. 31st of this year.

Here's more from The Charlotte Business Journal:

The recommendation calls for the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners to "immediately commission” a review from an internationally known firm with experience in waste management.

The board says the county should refrain from signing a contract with the developers of the ReVenture project without a favorable recommendation from an outside expert source.

Board members say this is required because the complexity of the gasification plant process includes risks from its proposed technology.

The board had formed a ReVenture Advisory Council to vet the project but found that work was not enough.

"The review by a local citizens' group is insufficient, no matter how well-intentioned,” states the recommendation.

The county is considering a contract — valued at $200 million over 20 years — to pay ReVenture Park’s developers to take all of Mecklenburg’s residential garbage, if all terms of the agreement can be met. That trash would feed into a 20-megawatt gasification plant, considered the anchor to the proposed “eco-industrial” park.

If the project is successful, it will be the first commercial waste-to-energy plant of its kind in the country.

The board also noted in its recommendation that the ReVenture team has “a lack of experience in end-to-end waste management expertise to credibly represent the scope and long-term impacts of the project."

Read on to get up to speed on the conflict-of-interest issue.

Rhiannon Fionn-Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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