ReVenture conflicts called into question

by Andrew Batten

Mecklenburg County is investigating claims that members of the county’s solid waste board reviewing the ReVenture Park project have financial ties to the project’s developer.

Charlotte-based Forsite Development wants to build ReVenture Park, which would include a 20-megawatt biomass power plant on land owned by Clariant Corporation at Belmeade Drive and Mount Holly Road on the banks of the Catawba River. The power plant would take the county’s garbage and burn it to generate power.

The county’s solid waste board was tasked late last year with reviewing the proposal. The board formed a stakeholder group, the ReVenture Advisory Council, to investigate Foresite’s plan and determine if the county should pay the company to take residents’ trash. The group recently voted to support ReVenture. But plan opponents say some review board members have a conflict of interest.

Shannon Binns, with Sustain Charlotte, and Bill Gupton, with the local Sierra Club chapter, say that Rich Deming and Ollie Frazier, who are members of the solid waste board, work for Calor Energy, a consultant employed by Forsite.

“Healthy debate in the democratic process is only possible when all of those having the debate do not have a financial interest in the outcome, and this was far from the case,” Binns said in an e-mail to the Mountain Island Weekly.

But Brett Rhinehardt, who is a solid waste board member and served as the ReVenture Advisory Council’s chairman, said the two men’s input was valuable because of their experience.

“It was my opinion that every voice had value and should be heard,” he said. Members “are fully capable of distilling pitch from fact, especially when the mandate was technology evaluation. For anyone to assert otherwise is both insulting to the participants and obviously coming from an uninformed position.”

Rhinehardt did agree that members had “a clear conflict of interest.”

“In fact, every person on the boards has a conflict of interest as we all stand to be financially impacted by the success or failure of this project,” he said. “That is why we should all have a voice at the table.”

During a Tuesday, Feb. 8, county commission meeting, Bruce Gledhill, the county’s solid waste director, acknowledged the board includes a “diverse bunch of individuals,” including members with financial ties to solid waste companies. But, Gledhill said, those members “always declare that they have a conflict of interest and recuse themselves from voting.”

And since the solid waste board has not voted on whether or not to support ReVenture, then no conflict has taken place, Gledhill said.

The county’s conflict of interest policy, however, goes a step further than voting and says members of county boards, committees and commissions “shall completely withdraw from any discussion or consideration” of any action in which they have an interest. Frazier and Deming participated in discussion on ReVenture and provided written input on the proposal to the solid waste board, Binns said.

The solid waste board had been concerned with conflicts of interest when the ReVenture Park Advisory Council was formed. The board appointed eight people for the council but voted down Edna Chirico and William Archer.

But Chirico, co-owner of Chirico Huber Properties, is a consultant to Forsite “to coordinate key government and community relation initiatives,” according to the ReVenture website. Archer is a facility manager with Clariant Corporation, which owns the site where Foresite plans to build ReVenture.

The Charlotte City Council approved an amendment to its waste management plan in December that gives Mecklenburg County the go-ahead to begin working on an agreement with ReVenture Park.

To allow Mecklenburg County to send its trash to ReVenture, the county must amend its Solid Waste Management Plan.

The plan directs where the county can send trash. The amendment allows the county to add ReVenture Park as an option for disposing garbage. Currently the county sends waste to the Charlotte Motor Speedway Landfill in Concord.

And although the city council gave their approval for the park, the final decision will rest with the Mecklenburg County commission.

Did you like this? Share it:

Leave a Reply