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County Council, June 24

Public gives “thumbs down” on incinerator!
County has some hard decisions to make on solid waste disposal
Warwick Jones

A month or so ago, Council members probably felt very satisfied with their plans for the County’s waste disposal. They would close the North Charleston incinerator in 2010 and divert the waste, previously incinerated, to the Bees Ferry dump. By refusing to take construction waste from contractors and developers, and by other measures, the life of the Bees Ferry dump could be extended to 20 years. And all of this would be achieved without a major increase in waste disposal charges.

A surprise for Council members
What a surprise there was in store for Council members! Residents of the Bees Ferry area were “up in arms” about the proposed height of the dump – it would be over 160 feet and visible for some distance. At a recent public hearing, they said the height should be much less. Obviously, any reduction in the height will reduce the life of the dump. And at a public hearing yesterday, residents of the County and in particular of the lower reaches of North Charleston, were hostile about extending the life of the incinerator should the County reconsider its decision to close it down. The residents said it was a pollutant and an anachronism. Whatever improvements were contemplated by the County and the operators, it would still be a pollutant. It had to be closed.

We have no doubt that Council members are sympathetic to residents of the Bees Ferry area and those of North Charleston. If only it were so simple to lower the proposed height of the Bees Ferry dump and to close the incinerator. What is Council to do? It has to dispose of the 300,000 tons or more solid waste that it collects each year in the County. Roughly 220,000 tons of this waste is disposed by incineration and the balance dumped at Bees Ferry. To close the incinerator and shorten the life of the Bees Ferry dump leads to an urgent need to find alternatives. And these will be very costly, and probably lead to a major increase waste disposal fees.

Operator promises reduction in pollution and noise
Mr. Reg Varner, Director of the County’s Solid Waste Division was the first speaker at yesterday's public hearing. He gave a brief history of solid waste disposal in Charleston County and a summary of the recent plans to make changes at Bees Ferry, and to close the incinerator. The County is now re-addressing the issues, particularly in the light of a new proposal from the operator to upgrade the incinerator. If the contract with the County were extended for another 20 years, the operator would make a major investment in the incinerator. Presently, the incinerator meets all standards of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). But with the upgrades, the operator would be able to achieve a further 70% reduction in mercury emissions and a further 50% reduction in particulate emissions. It also indicated that the upgrades would lead to a reduction in noise and odor. The County was to retain a consultant to advise it on all of these measures.

All speakers hostile to extending life of incinerator
The likely large reduction in pollutants, following an upgrade to the incinerator made no difference to the 25 or so speakers at yesterday's public hearing. The residents of the surrounding area spoke harshly about the pollution, odor and noise suffered in the last 18 years. The incinerator had been imposed on them and without any discussion with the then Council members. Many residents said it was impossible for them to sit on their verandahs or leave windows open because of the pollution. The lower reaches of North Charleston were the dumping ground for industry. The community with its narrow roads suffers the incursion of garbage trucks as they look for shortcuts to and from the incinerator. And who was inspecting the garbage trucks? They too often leaked, leaving liquid waste on the roads.

Proposed lower standards likely to be law anyhow in 2011
A speaker from the Coastal Conservation League suggested it was disingenuous to talk about a reduction from present DHEC standards. He said that in 2011, the EPA was expected to set new guidelines for pollution emissions. He inferred that the levels proposed by the operator ultimately would still be those set by law. And for him and other speakers, this was still not enough. No level of pollution was acceptable in the populated areas of the County.

Incinerator was an anachronism
Another speaker suggested that before the County spends money on retaining a consultant, staff should do their own research. Using incinerators to dispose of waste was an anachronism. There was much scope for improving disposal in the County through recycling and composting. Another speaker noted that South Carolina was one of the few states in the US, which continued to use incineration for waste disposal.

Issues were also raised about the viability of the possible creation of a dump on property owned by the County near Route 17 S. The rainfall runoff from this site inevitably would flow into the Edisto River leading it to its pollution. One speaker suggested that the best site for a dump would be in an area in Moncks Corner where there was plenty of suitable land. He suggested that it could be used for the whole of the Tri-County.

“Give us some options” beseeches Council member
We are unsure as to what the County will do to solve its waste disposal problems. As Council member Thurmond beseeched at the beginning of yesterday's meeting, “give us some options”! Council members Pryor and Darby are likely to be stoned, at least metaphorically by the North Charleston residents they represent if they approve the extension of the incinerator contract. Council member Bostic will suffer a similar fate if there is no height reduction of the Bees Ferry landfill.

We think the options will be costly
A spectator of yesterday's meeting would be hard pressed not to feel sympathy for the residents of the area surrounding the incinerator, and the seeming injustice 18 years ago of its imposition on this community. The public, at least measured by the comments at the two recent pubic hearings, are not happy with the original plan of the County, or the amendment to continue operating the incinerator. And most likely, Council members will want to address these issues. But no one yet has come up with any alternatives to the current plan. Certainly there will be alternatives but Council members may tremble at their cost.