Superintendent: school opponents latch onto ‘stink’ controversy

Published 8:57 am Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Superintendent Dr. Darrin Hartness told the school board members last week the issue involving the Gallins farm has nothing to do with the school system, nothing to do with the new high school and nothing to do with commercial composting, but “has become political and that’s real unfortunate.”

Pete Gallins operates a composting facility on his 150-acre farm, recycling food waste into compost that he sells and donates. In 2014, the business was recognized as the Green Business of the Year by the Piedmont Environmental Alliance, and that same year, Gallins Farm diverted 850 tons of food waste from landfills, according to its website.

He and his wife also live on the farm, adjacent to North Davie Middle School and the building site for the new Davie High.

Hartness said he’d never heard of Gallins or his operation until May 8, 2014, two days after the bond referendum for the new high passed. Gallins emailed Hartness, introduced himself, and said his property adjoined the new school site. He said it appeared “utilities may need to run across our land,” and said he wanted to be kept informed about the development of the school site and how it might affect his land and business, adding his business may have to be relocated because of the close proximity to the school site.

Eight months later, on Jan. 13, 2015, the school board received a letter from Gallins’ attorney, Philip Searcy, about an old farm road that ran along Gallins’ property line and encroached on the new high school site. Since the county owned the land, attorney Ed Vogler communicated a compromise to Searcy Feb. 12, Hartness said.

In late March, North Davie Principal Mary Foster told Hartness and two school board members she’d received numerous complaints about a strong odor outside the school. The next day, Chad Fuller, board chair, contacted Zoning Director Andrew Meadwell, sharing Foster’s comment.

When Foster was contacted in April by the Davie County Enterprise Record, she said: “It smells like garbage and it’s not every day. It’s typically first thing in the morning and then dissipates. It’s certainly not something that has an impact on our school day.”

When asked if the children, who play outside during the day, had complained of any odor, Foster said they had not.

Meadwell visited the farm in the spring, and in April, said, “In some aspects it is looked at as an agricultural type use, and in some aspects, it’s a manufacturing type use. It’s not much different than a farming type operation. His house is probably less than a hundred yards from the operation. He could have hogs, chickens, a dairy farm, which would be just as intrusive if not more so than what he is doing now.”

He said he’d been out to the farm and with the way the wind was blowing that day and standing right at the composting operation, he could smell the compost, which he described as an earthy, musty smell.

He added there are other residences on the road going to the farm and he’d never received any complaints.

In April, Searcy responded to Vogler’s offer, saying he needed a zoning letter stating the property is properly zoned for the current uses and indicating the acceptance of the previous offer for the road.

“This email was a surprise to me since zoning had never been raised as an issue and is not related to the road issue he wanted to have addressed,” Hartness said.

He said Searcy attached a letter from Scott Mouw, of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in support of composting.

On April 24, Hartness contacted Mouw and expressed his concerns about the odor complaints. He said Mouw indicated to him Gallins was operating under a demonstration permit and was “struggling to balance their process and control odors.”

In June, Hartness and Fuller met with Gallins and his wife, showed them the layout of the project and told him utilities would not cross his land. Hartness said during that visit, he noticed no odor.

But in a June 26 memo, Hartness told the board, “Something has changed since I first visited this site…the process has now created an odor nuisance.”

In a July 1 telephone conversation, Mouw told Hartness he had an issue with his use of the word “struggling.” He also told Hartness there had not been any official complaint about odor, and when Hartness asked him why his April 24 concerns were not noted as complaints, Mouw told him he was because is a “non-regulatory state employee, is not involved in the permitting or compliance process and is not obligated to share my concerns. Mr. Mouw said if there was an odor complaint, I should make it official by talking to the Branch Head of Waste Management. He then said I may not want to lodge a complaint ‘for what it’s worth.’”

Hartness said rumors saying he and Fuller approached Gallins to buy land are false, and that it was Gallins who offered to sell property.

“Some have said we were trying to purchase his property for practice fields and that is just not true; practice fields were already designed on the site and shown on drawings we shared with Mr. Gallins. Our conversations with Mr. Gallins related to his property and the high school were at his request.”

But Hartness also said he had conversations with Gallins regarding a grading easement or “even a purchase of a portion of his property for storing some unused soils” but were not able to reach “a scenario that made sense for both parties.”

He told the board it was unfortunate people had “latched onto” the odor complaint and made it about the new high school, but said he wasn’t surprised, because those same people were against the new high school being built.

“Really the only issue we have is we’ve had some complaints about odors and those are significant complaints, so we’ve filed those with the county. I understand last evening at the board of commissioners meeting there were a lot of not-so-nice things said about the honesty and integrity of the superintendent and folks sitting around me, and I’ll just say to those folks who made those statements I’ll let my record stand as it is.”

During the board comments’ portion of the meeting, Barbara Owens said it saddened her a group of people were attacking Hartness and some of the board members.

“We in Davie County are better than that. We as a board have always taken the high road and we will continue to take the high road.”