LETTER: Staff Misled Supervisors on Waste Management

April 13, 2015


It has been a little over a year since over 400 people crammed into the auditorium of the Northampton County High School for a public hearing on the then-new proposed complete re-writing of our county’s zoning ordinance. The majority of those attending and testifying at the meeting were quite perplexed at why they had been shut out of the rezoning process during the preceding year, and expressed frustration with the many changes proposed by staff and our new economic development director.

In a thinly veiled attempt to involve residents at the midnight hour, several weeks ago county planning staff conducted “public information sessions” that were held in the north and south sectors of the county. These meetings were expertly covered in the Wave by Wayne Creed.

During those sessions and after being shown maps, charts and other confusing fact sheets, those attending were encouraged to submit their questions and comments in writing to staff and the Board. Within 10 days after the sessions ended, over 116 comments had been entered into the official record, and the planning and zoning staff subsequently prepared a briefing paper for the Board of Supervisors which not only summarized the comments received but also attempted to offer a response to each of the points raised.

Overwhelmingly, those submitting comments were most concerned about the term “waste related” which is proposed as an allowable use in agricultural and industrial zones in the proposed zoning ordinance. Concerned residents and former county officials alike expressed fear that such an open-ended land use term could allow hazardous, municipal, medical, and other waste import and incineration, as well as storage and processing. Note that the plainly ambiguous term is not included in our current zoning ordinance, nor can we find such a dangerous term in any zoning ordinance we researched.

In their March 30 presentation to the Board, planning staff orally briefed the Supervisors on many of the issues placed in the record that objected to the current draft ordinance, including the waste issue. Specifically, Zoning Administrator Melissa Kellam informed the Board that staff had adequately responded to the concerns about “waste related” and removed that wording from the draft zoning language.   She informed the Board that, because the county currently manages waste at the landfill and their collection centers, “waste” has to be addressed in the proposed zoning ordinance, hinting that if it was not, the county could no longer continue these operations.


One more reminder: this language is not in our current ordinance.  So, she claimed, staff “had” to change “waste related” to “waste management,” and then she offered the Board a definition of that use which included “collection, source separation, transportation, transfer, processing treatment, and disposal of waste or resource recovery.”

When Supervisor Trala asked Ms.Kellam if that would address the concerns residents had about “hazardous waste,” Ms. Kellam informed him it would.  What our Zoning Administrator did not tell Mr. Trala or any other member of the Board was that the new term “resource recovery” is industry standard for waste incineration and waste-to-energy facilities. And because she did not so inform, the Supervisors, seemingly unwittingly, adopted the new use in agricultural and industrial zones by consensus vote.

The fact that the Eastern Shore Resource Conservation and Development District is working on a grant-funded project to pursue “Chicken Litter Incineration” on the Shore, combined with the fact that staff has proposed to eliminate lot coverage limits which currently protect the recharging of our sensitive sole-source aquifer (inviting huge metal-roofed chicken houses that will prevent rain water from leaching into the ground), looks like staff is paving the way for high intensity factory chicken farming and waste-to-energy facilities in this county.

If that is what the Board of Supervisors wants for us, over our objections, then they will stay on the current path. However, my take on the situation is that members of the Board are being misdirected by staff, and that they have been snookered into believing that the new “waste management” term alleviates our concerns.   As for the latter, not only does staff’s apparent “bait and switch” ruse fail to respond to our legitimate objections to this ill-fated path, it calls into question the integrity, motives, and intentions of those who we employ to represent OUR collective interests.

We urge the Board of Supervisors to revisit this issue, and trust that they will begin to more closely question the advice and direction offered by their (our) planning and zoning staff in future deliberations and final decisions.




2 Responses to “LETTER: Staff Misled Supervisors on Waste Management”

  1. Ken Dufty on April 14th, 2015 8:04 am

    Coming from a farm family and indeed as a past owner of a 50-acre horse farm where we raised chickens and goats along with our quarter horse breeding operation, I want to clarify that my objection to “resource recovery” is aimed at large scale commercial incinerators and import of large amounts of waste into this county generated from afar. If a farmer wants to use his manure produced on-site to produce heat or energy, he does not need language in a zoning ordinance to do that. That is covered under the “right to farm act” and is allowed as long as he or she is not importing tractor trailer loads of waste onto his farm. The proposed language in the new zoning ordinance of “resource recovery” with no caveat again lowers fhe flood gate for unchecked import of waste from, for example, large scale industrial chicken house operations like the one purportedly proposed for lands just north of Exmore on the Seaside Road. Just wanted to clarify that we are in enthusiastic support of farmers and their operations, and we are avid supporters of the Agricultural and Forestal District program that encourages owners of farmland to keep those acres in active farming.

  2. Jack Richardson on April 15th, 2015 9:02 pm

    I was living in Kent County MD 27 years ago when Wheelabrator Incinerator wanted to invest in the county to convert waste to steam and generator electricity. They said they would not be bringing waste from outside the county. What they did NOT say was that others would be bringing that waste to them. They were ultimately defeated because they were asking for a variance and it was denied.

    It seems language needs to be written into the Zoning laws prohibiting industrial incineration or similar to protect the county from the pollution which comes from that process.