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County Council, March 12

Consultant recommends closure of incinerator
Final decision to be made in 2 weeks
Warwick Jones

It was a long and at times, an acrimonious session. Broadly, the issue was to how deal with future waste disposal. But more specifically, it was whether to close the incinerator in North Charleston. The principal of the consultant firm retained by the County, Mitch Kessler, told Council that it had a number of options. The consultant’s recommendation, based only on economics, was to close the incinerator, boost the capture of recyclables from the solid waste, and transport waste to another county when the Bees Ferry site was filled. And this would be in about 12 years, it estimated. But Mr. Kessler emphatically told Council that his assessment did not take into account the environmental impact or community and political considerations.

Incinerator should be close because of pollution …..
Council members Council members Darby and Pryor did nothing to disguise their strong desire to close the incinerator. They represent the areas that surround the incinerator. The incinerator was built some 20 years ago, and without any input from the community or regard for the community, they said. It is polluting, and affecting the quality of life of the residents. Council member Darby tabled a letter from the Coastal Conservation League that strongly endorsed the need to close the incinerator. Council member Inabinett also said that he wanted the incinerator closed. But before he voted, he wanted to have a fuller discussion.

…. But there are other factors
Council members, Rawl, Schweers and Summey, were opposed to closing the incinerator, at least without more study. More time was needed to assess the consultant's report. Importantly, the cost savings that the consultant estimated took no account of the increased costs that would be incurred by cities and municipalities in the county in transporting all of their waste to the Bees Ferry landfill. No account was taken of the impact on roads, and the increase in traffic to Bees Ferry, or the necessary planning in determining sites for transfer stations.

A likely lively executive session
Shortly after the conclusion of the consultant’s presentation, Council member Darby moved that the incinerator be closed. Council member Condon seconded the motion. With tension already high, Council member Rawl raised it. After calling for more time to study the report, he said that to make a decision immediately was “totally and absolutely irresponsible”. Council member Darby responded sharply and before the debate got more heated, Council member Summey successfully called for an executive session. We can only imagine what transpired in the session. There were no smiling faces when the Council members returned an hour later.

On return, Council member Darby withdrew his motion and Council member Condon withdrew her seconding. Council then agreed to vote on the closure of the incinerator on March 26, 5 days before a decision must be conveyed to the operator as to whether the County will sign a new contract. (The operator has until April 1 to exercise its option to buy the incinerator from its present owner and thereby be in a position to resume its operation after this year. The present contract, between the City and operator expires at the end of this year). We understand that Council will seek the views of the cities and municipalities in the County before making a final decision in 2 weeks time.

An inadequate report in our view
The omissions in the consultants report were acknowledged by the Mr. Kessler. He said the consultant was tasked to only assess the impact for the County. Indeed, considering the limited time (4 months or so) it was given to prepare a report, it is doubtful there would have been time to take into account other factors.

A summary of the consultant’s conclusion can be seen by pressing Download file
He said there were 4 principal options and of these he chose No 4. – to close the incinerator, boost recycling of solid waste now sent to the incinerator to 40% and to send solid waste after year 12 to a site outside the County.

The major assumptions in the estimates were:
• The Bees Ferry landfill can be built to a maximum allowed height of 172 feet. The fill could not be seen at this height by developed surrounding communities.
• The amount of waste generated by the county will increase by 1.8% a year per capita and population growth of the county would be 1.7% a year.
• 40% of the solid waste that presently is generated is recycled compared with 10% presently
• The cost of treating waste at the incinerator is $40 a ton
• The cost of dumping waste at Bees Ferry is $23 a ton and $20 a ton if the incinerator is closed
• The cost of dumping waste outside the County will be $19 a ton and the cost of transporting this waste is $15 a ton, a total of $34 a ton.

The consultant may well have chosen the right option, but we confess that we found the report unconvincing. In its estimate of costs, working and capital have been lumped together. There was no break down or projections by each year, or discounting to take into account the time factor. In the corporate world, this report would have been unacceptable, we believe. It also seemed that some folk in attendance, seemingly knowledgeable about these things, were skeptical about some of the assumptions, such as the cost of dumping waste outside of the county. No sites had been identified and only preliminary talks had been held with adjacent counties. And of course, and as some Council members observed, there was no estimate of the likely higher costs incurred by the cities and municipalities.

Green Committee “sits on fence”
The Green Committee, formed by the County late last year to help advise it, listened to the consultant’s report earlier in the day. There was some confusion as to the final vote by the Committee and to what it would recommend to Council. A secret ballot was in favor of closing the incinerator 7 to 6. But an open ballot had to be made because of legal requirements, and with one member absent and another abstaining, the final vote was 6 - 6. Some help for the Council!

Other points from the report:

• The site on Highway 17 S was also suitable for a landfill but was too far away from most of the cities and municipalities to be utilized economically. The consultant also opined in a response to a question from a Council member, that it was more appropriate to use as a bird sanctuary than a land fill.

• Of the capture of recyclables, the total could be lifted from 40,000 tons a year to 160,000 tones, based on projected 2010 projected waste numbers. This would represent recoveries of 10% and 40% respectively of total County waste. However, these figures are pro forma in that it would take an estimated 5 years to achieve the 40% level.

• Because of the length of the permitting requirements, the consultant recommended that the County move as soon as possible to find another site outside the County. It could take 5 years or more to get all necessary permits.

To see the full presentation by the consultant, press Download file

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