Local News

Compost Fire Costs Piling Up For Durham

Posted September 21, 2006

— Cleaning up a burning compost pile at a Durham waste site could exceed $80,000, city leaders said Thursday.

Durham Solid Waste Director Donald Long estimates it will cost about $40,000 for crews to dig up the debris, douse it in water and dump it elsewhere. Other expenses, including items such as fuel for vehicles, could total another $40,000.

There also are costs not calculated in the cleanup bill.

For example, 8,000-gallon tanker trunks carrying water have made repeated trips to the site. As many as six firefighters are keeping watch over the smoldering fire seven days a week.

City leaders are also talking to a Virginia company that sells a product it claims can put out the fire in about eight hours, but it would cost up to an additional $40,000.

City officials said the fire started nearly two weeks ago at the city's Yard Waste Compost Facility from spontaneous combustion, which can naturally occur in large piles of yard waste.

Durham leaders, including Mayor Bill Bell and City Manager Patrick Baker, have questions surrounding the waste facility -- mainly why it has been operating without a license for the past two years.

"We want to know who knew what when, and what they did with the information," Bell said.

At Monday's Durham City Council meeting, Baker answered tough questions from the council and said he had been unaware of the facility's operating status. He told councilors that getting a permit for the facility was his top priority.

City officials said on Thursday that the facility is expected to have a temporary license by Friday.

Residents who live near the facility have complained of foul smells and smoke-filled air, leaving many of them, especially those with respiratory problems, concerned about the health effects of the fire.

City Council members have said the city should also be prepared to pay for possible medical bills as a result of the fire.

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