The Austin Chronicle

Recycled Arguments

By Lauri Apple, June 21, 2002, News

Last week the city hosted a meeting for Browning-Ferris Industries and the North Austin Civic Association to discuss BFI's new recycling facility on Metric Boulevard, which opened in April. Simply said, the two sides disagree on whether the facility is compatible with the neighborhood. NACA President Linda Moore asserts that BFI never notified residents that they were moving into their new, 50,000-square-foot digs, because the building's current zoning didn't require a site plan or change. Now neighbors are worried about traffic, flyaway trash, vermin, and noise. "We're pressuring the city to do the right thing here," Moore said.

And that, she adds, would be to enforce the agreement BFI signed last year promising the city not to build a recycling center within the city limits or extra-territorial jurisdiction, or within a half-mile from any residence, for three years. Although BFI has been "civil in its resistance," City Attorney David Smith told the Chronicle a couple weeks ago, "I think they like that site." The city -- which Smith reiterates supports recycling in general -- is still deciding how to handle the Metric situation, but for the moment appears to be more interested in pursuing mediation instead of a lawsuit.

"We each have a good argument," says Paul Gosselink, counsel for BFI. The facility's new building is appropriately zoned, he says, and better than its former, smaller location on Bolm Road, which the city condemned after a five-alarm fire in 1996. And at Metric, unlike Bolm, most of BFI's operations occur indoors, reducing noise and materials fluttering off-site. Partly at issue, Gosselink asserts, is BFI's current image problem, which stems largely from Northeast Travis County residents' recent complaints about stenches emanating from the company's Sunset Farms landfill off US 290. Since April, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission has filed several notices of enforcement or violation against Sunset Farms regarding odors, as well as excessive leachate and erosion.

"At the minimum, we are not trusted," Gosselink said. "At the maximum, we are considered a lot worse than that." BFI's new district manager hopes to rectify problems at Sunset Farms and at other locations in the area, Gosselink said. The company has also sought lobbying help from former City Council Member and LCRA General Manager Mark Rose. BFI and NACA have discussed creating a "good neighbor policy" for the new recycling plant. "We're exploring ideas that might work -- if they are enforced," Moore says. Yet she's still unsure about her new neighbors. BFI "agreed to something earlier they haven't abided by," she said. "There are some trust issues."

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