Incinerator offers town cash in exchange for dropping court case

Medical waste hasn’t been burned in Matthews since April 9

by Kara Lopp

The owner of a medical waste incinerator in Matthews recently offered to pay new fees or buy additional licenses if town leaders agreed to put an end to their pending court battle with the company.

Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor told fellow town commissioners Monday, April 23, about the meeting he and Town Manager Hazen Blodgett recently had with Louis Renfro, a representative of incinerator company MNC Holdings who proposed the idea. Renfro suggested additional town licensing or creating fees the company would have to pay to Matthews based on the amount of waste they burn if the town would drop its court case, Taylor said.

But the idea got no traction from commissioners this week and Taylor wasn’t surprised. The town has filed an appeal to a judge’s ruling last month that would allow the incineration company to alter their building at 3250 Campus Ridge Road to attempt to meet new federal air-quality standards. A court hearing has been set for May 2. MNC’s Renfro could not be reached by press time.

“My response to (Renfro) was ‘I don’t think we’re going to do that. It doesn’t feel right,’” Taylor said. “I told him I’d bring it up to the board, which I did. I don’t think that’s something we want to entertain.”

MNC attorney Thomas Terrell said this week he knew about the meeting and it was “nothing unusual.

“Even though the company prevailed in the (lawsuit), it still would like to continue conversations with the town and has been in conversations for more than a year,” Terrell said. “It was just one of many communications and meetings over time. I would just call it a routine meeting.”

What isn’t routine, Terrell says, is the way the town-hired attorney Rebecca Cheney notified MNC it was planning to appeal the case. Terrell filed court documents this week asking that the town’s appeal be dismissed because the town filed a notice of appeal via e-mail, not through the U.S. mail or hand delivered to his office, Terrell said. The May 2 hearing will address this issue, he said.

The town has hired Cheney, 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. The town disputes Terrell’s claim, she said.

“We believe there is no validity to the claim of MNC attorneys and we will contest it vigorously,” Privette Keller said in an email.

The incinerator resumed work March 26 after being closed for 10 months. It shut down voluntarily April 9, said Don Willard, Mecklenburg County air quality director. The restart was a way for the company to “reset the clock” because the county can void an air-quality permit if a facility doesn’t operate for 18 consecutive months. Company officials already have told county officials they are considering selling the facility. During the 12 days the facility burned waste, county air quality inspectors didn’t find any violations during inspections or receive any odor or dust complaints from nearby residents, Willard said.

“We don’t expect them to operate again. They’ve bought some more time to try to sell it,” Willard said this week. “This (restart) was just a procedural thing to buy them some more time.”

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