Matthews business, town remain in legal battle
by Kara Lopp
By the end of March, a controversial medical waste incinerator shuttered 10 months ago in Matthews could be operational again.
The news comes just days after the Town of Matthews filed an appeal to a judge’s ruling that would allow the incineration company, MNC Holdings, to alter their building at 3250 Campus Ridge Road to attempt to meet new federal air-quality standards.
The company, formerly known as BMWNC, sued Matthews in October 2011 claiming the town’s zoning rules won’t allow the company to make necessary changes to the site to comply with new federal Environmental Protection Agency rules. According to the lawsuit, company officials met with town staff last spring to discuss how they could make structural changes to the site to comply with the new regulations. Company officials were concerned, the suit said, because the incinerator is already a non-conforming use for that area. In April 2011, then town Zoning Administrator Bill Sherrill said, “The existing facility would not need to be enlarged and extended,” but two months later Sherrill denied the company’s request to make the changes, according to the lawsuit. Necessary upgrades to the Matthews incinerator were estimated at $2 million to $5 million.
The company appealed Sherrill’s decision to the town’s Board of Adjustment, which sided with Sherrill. The lawsuit asked a judge to reverse the board’s ruling – which happened March 19 when Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Forrest Bridges issued a ruling siding with MNC.
Matthews was quick to appeal.
“We filed this appeal because we are concerned with this firm and whether or not their proposed changes would meet our zoning standards. Additionally, we have been sensitive to concerns raised by residents in this area. This appeal allows us to push the courts to more thoroughly examine this issue,” Matthews Town Manager Hazen Blodgett said.
The town has hired Rebecca Chaney, of Charlotte’s Hamilton, Stephens, Steele & Martin, to handle the case. So far, the town has spent $38,000 on legal fees, spokeswoman Annette Privette Keller said. MNC could not be reached by press time.
A letter from company CEO Joseph Mayernik last March said closing and selling the facility is one option the company was considering after a 2011 ruling by the N.C. Environmental Commission forced incinerators to comply with stricter federal air-quality guidelines well before the state-adopted deadline of July 1, 2013. The company “voluntarily discontinued” operations last May, but recently notified Mecklenburg County Air Quality that the facility wants to re-open and operate until no later than September 30, Don Willard, the county’s air quality director, said in an e-mail. Before restarting operations, the facility must pass inspections to ensure “the facility can operate in compliance with the Mecklenburg County Air Pollution Control Ordinance and all permit conditions,” he said.
The county can void an air-quality permit if a facility doesn’t operate for 18 consecutive months, Willard said. If inspections go as planned, MNC hopes to be burning medical waste again by March 27, Willard said. County officials will conduct a stack test within two weeks of the restart to check emissions, he said.
“By operating, if only briefly, MNC restarts the 18-month clock,” Willard said in an e-mail. “It seems that MNC believes that the permit still has value and the facility is marketable.”
News of the planned restart is “scary” for local residents, said Mint Hill resident Catherine Mitchell of Citizens for a Healthy Environment. The local organization pushed for the incinerator to be shut down. The incinerator burns waste from doctors’ offices and hospitals, including Presbyterian Hospital Matthews, such as old medical records, used syringes, removed organs, amputated limbs, chemotherapy waste and biopsy tissue. The company also destroys illegal drugs for law enforcement agencies.
Mitchell said she fears MNC’s latest move means company officials are “making a push to get it sold.”
“It may be wishful thinking on their part (to sell), but at the same time it’s something my group is going to have to pay close attention to,” Mitchell said. “The last thing in the world we want is for them to sell it to someone else who will come in and operate an incinerator. I’m just hoping that no one will be foolish enough to take them up on their offer … we will be very vocal to any potential buyer.”