In Kittrell, 83 acres of forest near Tar River targeted for “clearing and inert debris” landfill

An 83-acre Land Clearing and Inert Debris landfill is proposed for this forested tract in Kittrell. (Photo courtesy Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper)

Egypt Mountain Road is like many rural byways: lovely, peaceful and rarely traveled by anyone without a reason to be there. 

Off US 1 in Kittrell, in Vance County, the two-laner passes through hilly land owned by families for more than 100 years. Tucked among the knolls and woods are small farms and modest homes, and on the shoulder a yellow road sign tells motorists to slow down for cattle.

That’s Angie Garrett’s farm. “Fifth generation,” she said. “It’s where we live and where we make life.”

Life on Egypt Mountain Road could drastically change if a proposed “Land Clearing Inert Debris” landfill — an LCID — is built on 83 acres of forest. The property also contains wetlands, flood plains and Long’s Creek, a tributary of the nearby Tar River. 

Although these landfills aren’t permitted to accept trash, they are unlined repositories for millions of tons of dirt, trees, unpainted wood, concrete blocks and brick, hauled in by dump truck after dump truck.

Neighbors already know how disruptive an LCID can be. Shortly after Kenneth Harrison III, who is behind the proposal, bought the property in 2017, trucks began streaming in and illegally dumped debris.

“I saw it with my own eyes,” said Garrett, who reported the activity to the county, after which the dumping stopped. “I followed the trucks and they came from Franklin County. That let us know who we’re dealing with.”

Harrison did not respond to an email seeking comment, but he and his attorney, Tom Terrell Jr., are scheduled to present their proposal, as well as new information not included in the application, before the Vance County Board of Adjustment today at 4 p.m. The meeting will be held in person at 122 Young St., in Henderson; it won’t be live-streamed. 

Long’s Creek, shown on the left side of the map, would run through the landfill property. Tabb’s Creek would abut it. (Map: DEQ)

If the Board of Adjustment green-lights the Conditional Use Permit, the project still faces many hurdles, including approval by state regulators. But if it clears those hurdles, state law allows the landfill to have a “life-of-site” permit. These permits don’t have to be renewed. The public can still file complaints, but a life-of-site permit essentially exempt it from further public hearings.

Harrison lives in Wake Forest near Falls Lake. He owns a land development company Pearces Road, as well as K&K Organics, which would operate the landfill, according to state and county documents. 

“He didn’t buy the property to live here,” Garrett said. “He bought it to dump into Vance County.”

The proposal also has environmental justice implications. According to the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Community Mapping System, 38% of the census block that includes the proposed landfill is low-income; 42% of residents are from communities of color; both figures are above the state average. Everyone in the area relies on private drinking water wells.

Photos included in the permit application insinuate that the neighborhood is unkempt and neglected. A landfill then, would “be in harmony with the area,” the permit states. 

But the photos are misleading. Whoever took them chose only to show a mobile home and junk cars; the person did not photograph the tidy lawns, gardens, farms, and pristine land that is rule, not the exception. 

“It shouldn’t matter, that’s people and they live there,” said Jill Howell, the Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper.

Another photo shows the sign to Carolina Sunrock’s rock quarry, noting that it is “just across Highway 1 from this site.” In fact, the quarry lies a mile south. 

The application also asserts that the landfill will only receive materials “it would be licensed to receive … most of the materials can be described as organic materials cleared from the same forests that we hunt and hike in.”

It is true that LCIDs are permitted to receive a limited type of material. But it’s also true that contaminated material can enter these facilities. Earlier this summer, Chemours, the company responsible for GenX contamination the Cape Fear River and drinking water supplies, sent potentially tainted tree roots and other “organic debris” to an LCID. After a citizen watchdog reported the dumping, state regulators forced Chemours to retrieve more than 30 tons of the material.

“Someone from the state isn’t going to inspect every load,” Garrett said. “Too much can go wrong for too many people.”

Howell is concerned that deforestation will exacerbate flooding, and allow soil and other debris to enter Long’s Creek, which runs through the property. That waterway feeds Tabb’s Creek, which flows into the Tar River. “When the trees are cleared, everything that’s been holding that soil and sediment will be gone, Howell said. 

Smaller creeks in the Upper Tar River Basin have better water quality than their counterparts downstream. Freshwater mussels have been found in Long’s Creek, and the habitat in Tabb’s is  healthy enough to support them, Howell said.  

The Tar River travels across eastern North Carolina and flows into the Pamlico Sound. Even 100 miles away, upstream pollution can harm sensitive estuaries near the coast.           

“These things add up. You can’t evaluate this in a vacuum,” Howell said. “There’s a need for an LCID landfill, but this is very close to a water resource. This is how you end up with degraded water quality.”

Garrett remembers raising children on the family land, and now her grandchildren enjoy those same traditions. “We taught our children to respect the land and it will continue to give to you,” Garrett said. “And if you’ve not caught a gar out of Tabb’s Creek you’ve not lived.”

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