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Controversy Stalls 'ReVenture' Plan to Make Electricity From Trash

Controversy continues to dog a plan that would turn Mecklenburg County trash into electricity. The County Attorney is looking into conflicts of interest on the advisory board tasked with vetting the ReVenture proposal. Mecklenburg County Commissioners are being asked to quickly give their approval for the project. Here's a quick recap on what ReVenture is: A private developer wants all of the household garbage in Mecklenburg County to fuel a 20-megawatt power plant out by the Whitewater Center. This "conflict of interest" situation center on two volunteer committees that have met nearly every week for the last few months to discuss ReVenture. They convene in a dingy conference room over at the county's solid waste management headquarters. During a September meeting, one of those committees - the county's Waste Management Advisory Board - gave birth to the second committee to take a closer look at ReVenture. They christened that second group the ReVenture Advisory Council and took applications from the public to fill most if its 15 seats. But the process wasn't fair, says Bill Gupton. He's with the Central Piedmont Sierra Club and a vocal opponent of ReVenture. Gupton applied to be on the council, but was rejected because of his bias. Meanwhile a paid consultant for ReVenture got a seat. That's when Gupton started making noise about conflicts. "The county policy states that if there's a conflict of interest that those individuals should recuse themselves from not only a vote, but all discussions of a particular topic," says Gupton. "We know that that hasn't been the case." The ReVenture Advisory Council voted to 8 to 3 in support of the project and sent that recommendation to its parent group - the Waste Management Advisory Board. The County Attorney is now investigating possible conflicts of interest on that board, as well. At least half of the 20 members earn a living in some way related to waste management, land development or green initiatives. One works for the landfill, which will lose business if the ReVenture project is approved. Two others are paid consultants for ReVenture. A total of four Waste Management Advisory Board members have privately acknowledged conflicts to the group's chairman, Daryle Benson, who's a retired physics teacher. He says those four people will not participate in the final ReVenture vote. But Benson insists their input is important.: "If you have someone who has a knowledge of the field that's going on, as citizens we need to seek out that knowledge," says Benson. For one thing, Benson says its saves the advisory board from having to hire scientists and consultants with that expertise. Until now, Benson has handled conflicts of interest informally, only bringing them to the attention of the full board if they start to create a problem. "If there was somebody trying to direct things, trying to bully or dominate, I feel that's my job as a chairperson to make sure that doesn't happen just like I did in the classroom when I had students out there," says Benson. He's convinced the Waste Management Advisory Board's final recommendation on ReVenture will be unbiased. Typically the Mecklenburg County Board of commissioners rubber-stamps those recommendations, but Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts says this proposal will be different. ReVenture's proposal will get plenty of public debate, she says, even if that means delaying the decision and extending the county's current landfill contract for a year. Correction: A previous version of this story indicated that ReVenture would purchase the county's household trash. In fact, the county would pay ReVenture approximately $25 per ton to dispose of the waste.