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Kenny Poteat, right, presents Scott Heath with his name plaque in commemoration of his
six years on Avery County Board of Commissioners.
Photo by Matthew Hundley

Originally published: 2012-12-07 11:50:33
Last modified: 2012-12-07 11:50:33

Commissioners hear waste management proposal, say goodbye to Heath

Matthew Hundley / (

Avery County Board of Commissioners held a pair of meetings in the past weeks, marking the end of the term of Commissioner Scott Heath and the beginning of Reo Griffith’s first term.

The first of the two meetings took place on Tuesday, Nov. 27. It was a special meeting designed to address only a few key issues. During the meeting, Ted Cox of Reclaimed Resources presented a proposal to the board of commissioners asking that it commit the solid waste stream from Avery County to a new facility he is finalizing in Tennessee. Cox offered to remove Avery County’s waste at no fee for 24 months, followed by reduced rates following that initial period, a plan that, according to Cox, could save Avery County hundreds of thousands of dollars in just a few years. 

According to Cox, in return, he receives a seasonally fluctuating waste stream from Avery County that would make for ideal, broad sampling for his new all-inclusive recycling plant, located in Bristol, Tennessee. Cox said that he would also need permission for his company to come into Avery County communities and schools to provide educational programming on recycling.

According to Cox, his new facility is so inclusive that Avery County would be able to claim a 100-percent recycle rate. Currently, Avery County’s recycling is under 10 percent of total waste, according to Solid Waste Director Buddy Norris. 

Cox also suggested that the reason he chose Avery County is because it is centrally situated to receive the solid waste from several nearby metropolitan areas, making it a viable location for an additional facility in the event that the operation expands. Such a recycling plant would, according to Cox, generate much tax revenue and employ between around 50 skilled employees. 

Cox noted that while his new facility would be cutting edge, there would be two backup landfills on contract to accept any trash that Reclaimed Resources was unable to accept due to technical difficulties.

Cox delivered his proposal in hopes of receiving a letter of intent from the commissioners declaring their intent to enter into contract negotiations with Reclaimed Resources. 

Heath noted that, in his time in office, he had come to appreciate the time and consideration that the board of commissioners puts into decisions, asking that the board not rush to accept or decline the offer. 

Kenny Poteat agreed, asking that the commissioners be given time to assemble a list of questions regarding how the project would affect Avery citizens. The commissioners agreed by consensus that the list would then be delivered to Reclaimed Resources and returned with appropriate answers before any final decision would be made.

Following the meeting, Solid Waste Director Buddy Norris told The Avery Journal-Times that while the proposal may seem too good to be true, the county will not proceed unless the contracts include contingencies to ensure that there is no interruption in services and that the county does not become liable for any failure on the part of Reclaimed Resources.

To ensure that such contingencies are in place, Norris and county attorney Michaelle Poore will be meeting with professional engineering consultants to ensure the security of the contract.

“The negotiations are ongoing with Reclaimed Resources for the disposal of our annual solid waste into their waste-energy facility,” said Norris. “No decisions will be made without the appropriate contingencies built into an agreeable contract. We are scheduling a meeting with legal council and a qualified engineering consultant to sit down and make the appropriate edits and changes on the contract to ensure that there will be absolutely no interruption in solid waste services that are provided throughout the county. 

“Should the agreement fall through, the county has options for solid waste disposal. There are four permitted solid waste management facilities within this region that we can fall back on.”

“This is one of those cases where due diligence and caution need to be considered.”

For more information on Reclaimed Resources and their new facility, click to

Following the Nov. 27 meeting. Avery County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kenny Poteat presented departing Commissioner Heath with his name plaque that sat on the commissioners’ bench for the past six years.

“You have witnessed the expertise in the way that Scott Heath has conducted himself as a county commissioner,” Poteat said, addressing the audience. “We have been very privileged to have him here for six years. He has conducted himself in a very professional manner ... I am proud to call him a fellow commissioner. Scott, thank you for six years of dedicated service.” 

Commissioners welcome Griffith, discusses ongoing projects

Avery County Board of Commissioners welcomed new commissioner Reo Griffith – sworn in earlier the same day – and discussed several ongoing projects, including A.C. P.R.I.D.E. and courthouse renovations at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Dec. 3.

The commissioners began the meeting by reappointing Poteat as board chairman, Cindy Turbyfill as clerk to the commissioners, Poore as county attorney, Tim Greene as county finance officer and Robert Wiseman as county manager. 

Poteat called his reappointment both an honor and a challenge and welcomed Griffith to the board.

The first of the ongoing projects addressed by the board was the repair of the roof of Linville Central Fire Department. Martha Hicks made the motion to approve up to $8,000 for the repair. The vote passed 4 to 1, with Griffith dissenting. 

“I have listened to a lot of people. I have listened to concerns and just listened. I am coming into this board with no single promise to no man,” Griffith said. “I hope that when history is written in Avery County, the people will say ‘well one time we voted for Reo Griffith from Minneapolis and he was a good steward of our money.’”

Economic development director Bret Gardella provided an update on several economic development projects, including the installation of broadband service in Avery County, though in the early stages, is proceeding.

“They have invested in our county,” said Gardella.

Gardella continued to explain that Banner Elk had approved a metal roof for the former Banner Elk School and future sight of the A.C.P.R.I.D.E. business incubator. With a metal roof approved, it became possible to proceed with an earlier, winter installation. 

Poteat noted that, while the yearly budget had not included money for a new roof, the commissioners had discussed it, agreeing to proceed when it became clear that the building would be put to use.

“It could and would be addressed later when the future of the building was more solidified,” Wiseman said, recalling the meeting.

Gardella noted that he currently has two letters of intent for businesses prepared to become tenants of the incubator. 

“I am very encouraged that we have two right now,” Gardella said. “Both of those would be what we would consider to be anchor tenants.”

Griffith questioned the practice of raising taxes and then creating a new department for economic development. Commissioner Glenn Johnson reminded Griffith that the Economic Development department was established nearly a year before the recent tax increase.

“The creation of that position was not the cause of tax increase, not by a long shot,” said Johnson.

Griffith also suggested that Gardella might find the proposed $55,000 in his current budget. 

Gardella replied that while that was possible, it would put various other projects on hold including some already under way.

In response, Johnson presented his view on the need fore economic development, especially in regard to job creation.

“As county commissioner, one of my main goals is to try to develop this county economically,” Johnson said. “I think it is probably the most important thing we can do, to bring jobs and businesses into this area. I don’t like budget amendments, but as Poteat said, it was specifically discussed that we would address this. As long as we have owned this building, we are going to have to put a roof on it. If I was commissioner and not about trying to create jobs in this county, then you need to find another commissioner to take my place two years from now.”

Johnson also reminded the audience that the prospect of selling the building is not as viable as it may appear given conflicting estimates, the state of the building and the restrictive zoning of the location.

Hicks objected to the addition, voicing her concern that the building could easily become a money-sink of continuing repairs.

An initial motion to allocate $55,000 for the new roof failed, with commissioners, Poteat, Hicks and Griffith voting against it. 

Poteat, in turn, proposed a compromise, in which the county would provide $35,000 of new money for the roof, and Gardella find the remaining needed funds in his current yearly budget. 

The motion passed 3 to 2, with Griffith and Hicks voting against the motion.

The final project that the commissioners addressed was changes needed to proceed with courthouse renovations.

With the final stage of courthouse renovation nearing, it will be necessary to hold court in Avery County Courthouse’s smaller courtroom, which Judge Phil Ginn declared inadequate to hold court for several reasons, including issues from outdated carpeting to line of sight between juries and witnesses. The smaller courtroom will be needed while the larger and older courtroom is renovated.

Wiseman laid out four options for making the smaller courtroom adequate to satisfy Ginn. The first option, to do nothing, could leave Ginn with the option to hold the county in contempt of court. The second option, to simply replace the carpet for a cost of around $5,000, would address some concerns, but leave problems with line of sight. The third option, which would involve rearranging courtroom structures and would cost approximately $25,000, would solve many of the line of sight issues and included replacing the carpet. The final option, a complete renovation of the room, would cost the county around $75,000.
Wiseman also noted that the larger the small courtroom renovation, the longer the project would take, delaying the start of the large scale renovation plans for the courthouse, in the works for many years.

County Attorney Michaelle Poore noted that, given the size of the room, no amount of renovation would ever make the smaller courtroom adequate for all courtroom proceedings.

Noting his experience in law enforcement, Griffith emphasized the importance of line of sight and of keeping the courtroom presentable, urging his fellow commissioners to proceed with the changes.

“Seeing a witness is a must,” Griffith said, remembering his many times as a witness. “We are fixing to deprive a man of his freedom. It is absolutely a must that the courtroom be set.

“I am big on image, whether it is in my front yard or the county. We need to have good stuff. We need to have pretty stuff. Not that I want to waste money, but if the carpet is bad, replace it.”Johnson scrutinized the plans to determine the actual gains and merits of the repositioning of features in each plan. 

The funds to bring the smaller courtroom into compliance are already allocated in a capital projects fund set aside for the renovation.

“It is still taxpayer money,” Johnson said. “It comes from available funds, but it is taxpayer money; and there are no jobs or economic development in it.”

After discussing the merits of each plan, the positions of seating, the size of the room, the condition of the carpet and Ginn’s expectations, the commissioners made a motion to accept the $25,000 option, replacing the carpet and repositioning some features, but not the entire layout of the room. The vote passed four to 1, with Johnson voting against.

Other News and Notes...

Public Hearings

Two public hearings took place at the Dec. 3 meeting. First Linda Cuthbertson spoke to the audience regarding the Avery County Community Transportation Program application, which helps secure funds from the state level to provide transportation services in Avery County. The second public hearing was presented by Tommy Burleson, director of planning and inspections, who laid out six proposed changes to Avery County’s Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control Ordinance, which helps regulate runoff into the watershed from construction. The changes included changes to the definition of a steep slope, deadlines for establishing groundcover, changes to billing for user fees and  changes to criminal penalties for violating the ordinance.

Fire commission, chiefs, county commissioners to meet

Avery County Fire Association President Paul Buchanan addressed the board of commissioners to request a joint meeting of the commissioners, the fire commission and the fire chiefs to discuss the titling of new fire vehicles purchased by the county for the departments. Johnson reminded the audience that the issue had already been decided on multiple occasions, but the board agreed to hear the fire commission and chiefs out on the subject at a meeting in late January or early February.

Incoming Grants

County Finance Officer Tim Greene reported that two grants, one for the Sheriff’s department and one for counseling Medicare patients were to be added to budget. The grants were both 100 percent grants, requiring no matching on the part of the county. The ACSD grant, sent from DOJ, totaled $4,090. The Medicare education grant, sent from NCDOI, added $6207.