LUMBERTON — Councilman John Cantey believes what he believes is a possible environmental threat to Lumberton is greater than the reward of new jobs offered by a company looking to locate in his district.
Speaking during the city’s Council Policy Committee meeting on Wednesday, Cantey moved to table a decision on pursuing a lease agreement with N.C. Power Holdings LLC. The company wants to house used railroad ties on a Town Common Street site.
Cantey has expressed concerns about how the business would look and worried it could become an eyesore. He spoke about environmental and economic impacts on Wednesday.
“It’s more than just screening. A lot of people come into our town and promise all these jobs and they don’t appear,” Cantey said.
N.C. Power Holdings plans to use the ties as fuel in energy creation.
“These railroad ties contain a substance called creosote,” Cantey said. “Do you know what that is?”
Cantey said the railroad ties are coated in creosote, a coal tar-based substance used to protect wood that can contain carcinogens.
N.C. Power Holdings wants to lease the property to store old railroad ties that will be taken by rail to its bio-fuel plant on Hestertown Road, where they would be ground and used for fuel at the power plant. The company expects to create 15 jobs once fully operational.
Citing information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Cantey talked of the dangers of burning wood treated in creosote and that the creosote can leach into the groundwater.
A company representative had been invited to attend but was not present.
“The guy couldn’t find fit to be here this morning. I’m going to be honest with you, I can’t approve this,” Cantey said. “I’m not going to risk our citizens’ health.”
Councilman Erich Hackney stepped in to mediate before Cantey could say more.
“John, before you kill it … would you be willing to let (City Attorney) Holt (Moore) and (Planning Director) Brandon (Love) set up a meeting (with N.C. Power Holdings) and explain it one more time?” Hackney said.
Councilman Leroy Rising said he thought the new proposed use was a better environmental option than the previous use as a site for abandoned warehouses containing asbestos.
“We see railroad ties stored at the side of railroads all over town,” Rising said.
“All over town,” Mayor Bruce Davis said.
There has been a $100 million investment with 35 direct jobs and 50 indirect at N.C. Power Holdings’ bio-fuel plant, City Manager Wayne Horne said.
Moore suggested the power plant would be subject to environmental oversight and the Town Common Street project could come with caveats, such as putting down protective asphalt or stone where ties would lie.
The lease will be discussed again at the council’s June meeting.
In other business:
— The council heard from Landin Holland, of Holland Consulting Planners of Raleigh, on its hazard mitigation plan. The plan, which was started before Hurricane Matthew, must be updated and approved every five years for municipalities to be eligible for certain federal and state aid.
A public hearing is not legally necessary to pass the plan, but council will discuss holding a public hearing on the subject.
“I think it would be a good gesture to the citizen to hold a public hearing,” Love said.
— The city asked its Planning Board for input on a zoning variance that would allow volunteer organizations such as the Baptist Men and Methodist Outreach to house themselves in one location as they continue to contribute to the recovery from Matthew. Both groups have pledged years of support in the area, but current zoning does not allow all of their activities to be in one place. The city will look into a tightly scoped additional use allowance so they can live, work, store supplies and have office space in one area.
— Travis Branch, director of Management Information Systems, asked that $30,000 from his department’s capital fund be redirected to purchase additional servers instead of being used for security software.
— Council scheduled a fiscal year budget workshop for May 24 starting at 9 a.m.
— Hackney requested that the speed limit on West 23rd Street between McMillan Avenue and Elm Street be reduced from 35 mph to 25 mph. Residents have raised concerns about a particular bend on the street.
— Council extended the Housing Authority of Lumberton’s lease at 407 N. Sycamore St., commonly known as Old Catholic School.
— Council approved Community Revitalization Funds in the amount of $400 for Oakridge Association; $1,000 for 911 Day; $1,200 for Southeastern Family Violence Center; $190 to Lumberton High School; and $400 to the Wycliffe Homeowners Association for community day events.
All Council Policy Committee actions must receive City Council approval. The council will meet on Monday.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly