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The Watch


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County Council, January 17

Decision on future land fill, and waste disposal. SPCA gets half a bone
Unhappiness about Roadwise program
Warwick Jones

It didn’t take much time to decide. Staff gave a short presentation on the County’s options regarding future land fill and waste disposal, and made its recommendation. And after some discussion and no dissent, Council chose Option 1 - to continue using the Bees Ferry land fill to dispose of waste and to develop another land full site on Highway 17 S to receive building material waste beginning about 2022. Resource recovery (incineration) of trash would cease after 2010. The County would also discontinue taking trash and other materials from “private” sources.

Lowest cost
More than anything else, it seems that Council was swayed by the estimated cost to users at an “average” of $110 a year. The estimated average cost of the other 3 options ranged up to near $140 a year. Council member Bostic obviously wary of the word “average” asked whether the figures had been discounted to present value terms. Staff said “yes” though we are not sure staff understood what the Council member was asking.

The other and more costly Options entailed the construction of an incinerator at Bees Ferry, the transport of construction material waste to a land fill at Jedburg, and timing of opening the facility on Highway 17 S.

There was no discussion on the capital costs of the various options. But as implied by the rise in the estimated user fees, Option 4 which entailed the construction of the incinerator, would have had a high capital cost.

The life of the land fills under Option 1 was projected by staff at 37 years for both “solid waste” (trash) and construction materials.

Consider joining with other counties
Council member Schweers suggested that it would be a good idea if the County joined with surrounding counties to develop a joint land fill project. The size of the Charleston land fill was too small to justify methane collection. But a larger land fill could make collection viable. Collection of methane, as source of energy, could make a difference to the economics.

Council member Condon asked whether there were any mandatory recycling included in the projections. Staff said no but commented that voluntary recycling was increasing. Staff also said the estimates had taken into account projected population increases. Trash collection volumes were rising at annual rate of about 1.2%.

No outside agency contributions – except to SPCA!

The decision of Council some months ago to cease making ‘contributions to outside agencies” came back to bite it on the leg. Council member Pryor did his best to make sure Council noticed but there was little evidence of pain. The bite came from the SPCA, an outside agency that was asking for more funds to complete its new facility at North Charleston.

The SPCA sought $2.4 to fund the new facility in North Charleston to completion. Council gave it only $1.4 million. Its reluctance reflected unease with the escalation of the estimated costs over recent years. Staff in a presentation showed that in 2004 the cost of the facility was estimated at $6.5 million. It was now estimated at $11.3 million. If the County is to fund the 50% it originally agreed to, its commitment would be $5.7 million. This is about $2.4 million over the $3.2 million commitment agreed to in 2006.

Agrees to only half the funds sought
Staff recommended that Council accede to only half of the request. It suggested that the SPCA draw on some of its endowment funds and increase its capital campaign goal. It also said the County could consider borrowing an additional $1.2 million in a proposed 2009 bond issue.

This seemed like euthanasia to a spokesman for the SPCA. The facility had to be completed and there was little alternative to drawing funds from the County. He noted that some of the municipalities served by the SPCA were providing funds, the largest contributions being from the Cities of Charleston and North Charleston. There were few Council members impressed when he said that each city had promised $250,000 over 5 years. This seemed pretty paltry to us but no Council member suggested the body lean heavier on the municipalities.

Could get $1.2 million later this year?
Chairman Scott acknowledged the good done by the SPCA. Others suggested that if the County assumed the task performed by the SPCA, it would cost tax payers much more. And from the discussion, it is our sense that the SPCA will get the extra funding sometime in the future. As Councilmember Darby said, what is the alternative? But as Chairman Scott indicated, Council is unlikely to approve more than the $2.4 million now sought.

The $1.2 million funding, and the extra $1.2 million if granted, will be added to that of the new jail. The SPCA and the new jail projects have been combined. This reflects the fact that the old SPCA facility occupies much of the site for the new jail. The facility has to be removed before construction can begin.

Council members Schweers and Bostic voted against the funding. Both were strongly in opposition to “outside agency contributions” in general when discussed last year.

LPA Group under pressure

LPA Group, consultants to the County gave a presentation on progress on road projects under the “Roadwise” program which is financed by the half-cent sales tax.

We heard the presentation but did not see the documents in front of Council. It was clear that much information was provided by LPA but it was not enough for some Council members. And indeed, it seems that all Council members in some degree were unhappy about the program.

Targets for minorities not being met
The major source of ire was the employment of minorities (defined to include women) The County had set a target of 10% and LPA had indicated that it had set such targets in road contracts. Council members Pryor and Darby were incensed that LPA had not achieved these target rates. Other Council members were irritated that the information provided was insufficient to provide a complete picture and Council member McKeown asked for more detail for each project in future.

We are not sure as to how much criticism was deserved by LPA for poor performance and how much related to inadequate reporting. The spokesman for Roadwise rated its progress late last year as a “C” and when questioned by Council member Mc Keown gave a similar rating for the present. The spokesman last year acknowledged setbacks and delays relating to permitting and right of ways specifically.

Although LPA may not be responsible for the delays in the program, Council clearly feels that a better job could be done in relation to hiring minority firms. It has decided to take over the function of encouraging minority participation in road contracts and Deputy County Attorney Taylor has been seconded to assist in the process.