A waste collection company whose operations border a Whitehaven community asked the Memphis City Council Tuesday for the green light to reposition the site’s layout.
Officials with Waste Connections said its proposal would have been better for the neighboring residents, but after more than an hour of debate, the council voted it down.
Currently, the 30-acre waste transfer site near Brooks Road sits right behind more than a dozen homes. It collects 900 tons of waste each day. The company said its proposal would have moved its operation further away from the residents and created a larger buffer zone.
But, members of the McCorkle Road Neighborhood Association spoke in opposition to the proposal, urging the council to vote against it. They cited a rodent-control problem, loud noises, strong odors, and possible exposure to hazardous chemicals as common concerns among the residents.
Rita Davis, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, said she lives right behind the site and can’t “tolerate it.” She said there are “rats as big as cats jumping out at you” in her backyard. She also said a “horrendous stench” comes from the facility.
“There is a horrendous problem with garbage disposal one street over from a neighborhood that's been established since the '60s,” Davis said. “Now, it’s like a dead zone. You can’t have fun. You can’t enjoy your backyard.”
Another resident, Yvonne Nelson, wanted the council to agree to conditions that the company would have to adhere to if its proposal was approved. Some of those requests included relocation expenses of $200,000 per household affected by the site, pest control, an odor control system, and reduced hours of operation.
Council members responded that they don’t have the legislative authority to require the company to agree to such provisions.
“We’re tired and we want you to listen to us,” Nelson said. “We live there. We live this. You came and visited for five minutes and you left.”
Adrian Bond, representing Waste Connections, said “we’ve got fact versus fiction” and “improvement versus fears.”
Bond said many of the concerns the neighbors expressed, such as proximity to the site and noise levels, would have been mitigated with the relocation. He said the company’s operations are too confined and that in order to create a larger buffer zone between residents’ houses and the site, the company needs to reposition its layout.
“The council has the opportunity to put things in place to ensure that these neighbors and Waste Connections can coexist,” Bond said. “A no vote is a travesty because it doesn’t address the issues.”
Bobby Ladley with Waste Connections said he’s been tasked with fixing the issues the neighborhoods presented, but said “I simply don’t have the room right now.” Bond added that the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Memphis Public Works, the health and fire departments, and vector control have not cited any issues or violations at Waste Connections’ site.
Bond said the company is aware of the rodent problem, but does not believe Waste Connections is the culprit. “We never doubted there was a rodent problem,” Bond said. “Our contention is that it’s not because of Waste Connections.” Bond said the rodents are coming from a nearby vacant apartment building, which he said was verified by a pest control company.
Before the 12-1 vote, several members of the council, including Berlin Boyd and Martavious Jones, maintained that a “no” vote would not change the neighbors circumstances. “Voting no keeps everything the same,” Boyd said. “ It does not improve.”
Councilman Sherman Greer said he believed voting in favor of the proposal would be best for the residents, but instead he chose to “vote how the constituents want me to.”
“I’m going to follow you and cast a no vote,” Greer said to the neighbors. “I don’t think it helps you, though. I’m going to cast that vote the way you want, but I think it’s the wrong vote for you.”
Councilman Worth Morgan, the sole member to vote for the proposal said the case “makes the least amount of sense in terms of where the opposition is coming from.”
“These are usually things the neighbors come together and argue for,” Morgan said. “In my best judgment, this actually improves conditions in the neighborhood for y’all rather than a step backward or keeping them the same, which is what a no vote does.”
Chairman Kemp Conrad disagreed, echoing a resident’s sentiment that “you don’t expand a house to take care of a house you currently have.”
Conrad said many of the items Waste Connections is proposing could have been done without council approval. He also questioned why there hasn’t been any outreach with the community until recently.
“Had y’all been better neighbors until this point and there was trust between you all and the neighbors, I would think they probably would support what you’re talking about doing,” Conrad said. “You would have built the goodwill needed to get support for this project. You don't need our vote to do that and if this fails, I hope you do it.”
Councilwoman Gerre Currie said even with the proposal being voted down, there are still options the company can pursue. Currie said she and residents will work with Waste Connections to form a “harmonious relationship,” moving forward.