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FIRST ON 3 UPDATE: County releases R3 from garbage contract; Will cost taxpayers more to keep current system in place

READ MORE: FIRST ON 3 UPDATE: County releases R3 from garbage contract; Will cost taxpayers more to keep current system in place

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- New Hanover County gave R3 an early release from its contract to take over the county's solid waste management, County Manager Bruce Shell announced at a Friday morning news conference. R3 now forfeits a $384,000 performance bond that guaranteed its work.

The county hired GBB, a solid waste consultant in Virginia, last year for $114,209 to recommend which company it should go with to replace WasteTech. It paid $196,463 for legal counsel. It decided on R3, even though the company only existed on paper, was proposing to use technology that wasn't being used successfully anywhere else in the world, and was being run by a woman who was a local real estate developer who had absolutely no experience in waste management.

We asked Shell if he was comfortable with the recommendation he got from GBB based on the more than $300,000 the county spent to get it. "I know that GBB asked a lot of indepth questions and came to the conclusion that that it could be done," he said. "I relied on that a large part. Yes it has not been done in this particular form. I understand the technology is there. It just has not been put together in this fashion So I for one believe it could be done."

The county then contracted with R3 with the promise the company would revolutionize solid waste. Its plans included building a facility that would separate biomass from recyclables. But those plans never materialized, and the company twice asked the county for deadline extensions. Recently it notified the county that it would likely not be able to meet its April 2 deadline.

We were told R3 CEO Robin Grathwol was on her way out of town today and couldn't be at the news conference. Instead she issued this statement:

"The commissioners and staff of New Hanover County should be applauded for seeking an innovative method for managing the County’s solid waste. As evidenced by R3’s considerable investment of time and money in this endeavor, R3 believed that it had the right solution for New Hanover County. We took our commitment to develop that solution very seriously and assembled a talented team of companies and individuals to create change for this community. Ultimately, for a variety of unanticipated reasons, the task proved more challenging than anticipated and, in the end, R3 was not able to secure the funding necessary to proceed with the project. We sincerely regret that the timing was not right for us to see the project to fruition.

Local media have tried to contact Grathwol for weeks, but she has chosen not to return any phone calls.

Shell says the $384,000 performance bond only covers the $310,000 the county spent on the consultant and some other miscellaneous expenses. Otherwise, keeping WasteTech online was not budgeted for and will cost taxpayers extra money.

The county has also now hired another consultant called HDR for $29,000 to evaluate WasteTech, the company that is running the landfill and incinerator now. It wants to know what it would cost to renovate the system and come up with a preventative maintenance schedule.

Shell says he met with WasteTech employees this week to update them on the situation. He would not guarantee that all of the company's 46 employees would keep their jobs over the long run. He says WasteTech will continue to operate the best they can but will need more money to continue running.

The future of garbage removal in New Hanover County will be discussed at the next commissioners's meeting on April 4.

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