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Board calls for outside firm to ‘bring credibility’ to ReVenture review

Saying the review process for the ReVenture park energy plant “has been compromised by local political and financial interests,” the Mecklenburg County Waste Management Advisory Board wants an internationally known waste-management firm to study the proposed project.

On Tuesday, the WMAB said the review process, which has involved local businesspeople and residents with ties to the project, is not sufficient.

The board voted to recommend to the county’s commissioners that it contract with a firm with no local ties to the county or ReVenture Park, which will be at a Superfund site in western Mecklenburg County.

The WMAB, in its recommendation, said an analysis is needed by “an internationally respected firm with no local ties … to bring credibility back to this discussion. The process of vetting the ReVenture project has been compromised by local political and financial interests.”

WMAB said the additional evaluation is required because of the project’s complexity, including risks associated with the gasification technology.

“A review by a local citizens group is insufficient, no matter how well intentioned,” the WMAB said.

The decision came after the ReVenture Advisory Council, a group formed by the WMAB to examine the technology proposed to convert the county’s trash into energy, met 10 times for more than 30 hours from October to January. It received 450 pages of documents during the meetings, with links to thousands or more pages online.

But conflict of interest worries were raised last month when environmental groups and residents said some members of the advisory council and the WMAB had financial ties to the project. After hearing from a county attorney, the WMAB adopted the county’s conflict of interest policy during its February meeting. Four members who each cited potential conflicts then recused themselves from further discussions about ReVenture.

An independent review would likely delay the project. County officials were hoping a decision on ReVenture could be made in time for it to be included as an option when the county’s current landfill contract expires in June 2012.

Tom McKittrick, president of Forsite Development, the company developing ReVenture, said although the project’s schedule has been a challenge since it began, the WMAB decision will not threaten the viability of the project because his team has “multiple contingency plans.”

“We’re charting ahead with the permitting, and I don’t anticipate this being a hurdle we can’t overcome,” McKittrick said following the meeting.

He said he welcomed the third-party evaluation because it will validate the project and flush out any concerns.

Bill Gupton, head of the local Sierra Club, said he was not surprised by the WMAB decision.

“So many things about this project have not been finalized and not thoroughly investigated,” he said. “This is huge. This gives us an opportunity to take our time and hear the facts and give input.”

The board voted 11-1 to recommend that the commissioners seek an expert evaluation of the project. The four members who cited conflicts of interest abstained from voting.

The WMAB also voted Tuesday to pay for the independent review out of the county’s solid-waste fund balance. The county’s solid-waste director, Bruce Gledhill, will be responsible for hiring the firm under the proposal by the WMAB.

Tara Ramsey can be reached at tara.ramsey@mecktimes.com.

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