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County Council, January 7

A long and fractious meeting on Solid Waste
Decisions again deferred but probably not for long
Warwick Jones

After last night’s marathon session of 4 hours, we have to wonder. Presentations and discussion on solid waste treatment and disposal took up most of the time. Solid waste issues have hovered over Council for some years and have prompted many executive sessions. But at the conclusion of last night’s often-heated session we pondered - Was last night the first time that Council was aware of all the facts? Had it been told before and wasn’t listening? Had members asked the right questions? Had they been given the right answers?

There was so much confusion and uncertainty in the discussion on the issues that in our opinion, Council should have been embarrassed. We suspect that most members were. We also feel that Council will aggressively press for resolutions. The actions taken last night will again defer decisions but again in our opinion, Council will be better placed to make the right decisions.

One thing that was resolved last night was the leadership of the Solid Waste group. It was again placed under the authority of the County Administrator. Over the last few years and after the closure of the North Charleston incinerator, County Attorney Dawson assumed the leadership with direct responsibility to the Chair and Council. By all accounts, he and his staff did a good job and costs were reduced significantly. However, more recently, some Council members grew concerned about the management arrangement and the high remuneration of the County Attorney. They argued that it was time for Attorney Dawson to give up his role in Solid Waste, and for the group to move back under the authority of the Administrator. This issue grew very heated in the last year or so, but last night Council voted for the change in a 6 to 3 vote. The three Council members opposed were Johnson, Summey and Condon. County Attorney Dawson will still play an advisory role but we presume he will draw only his attorney remuneration.

As for the other issues, we are uncertain about the final outcome. The first to come before Council, at least last night for it has been before Council innumerable times, was the location for a new Materials Recycling Facility (MRF). And last night, the issue completed a full circle. As County Attorney Dawson said, staff’s first choice was at Bees Ferry, near the existing land fill. Council gave this thumbs down, largely because of opposition from the City of Charleston and neighborhood groups. Staff searched for other properties and found one on the Palmetto Commerce Parkway. This too was opposed by neighborhood groups. Staff found another down the road and it too proved unsuitable. However, the owner of the property offered the County another parcel which staff though could be suitable and where there would be no neighborhood opposition. However, some Council members had issues with this property –at a cost of $142,000 an acre, the 20 acre parcel was too expensive particularly as easements for power lines covered nearly a quarter of it. There were also wetlands. In conclusion and at the pushing of Council member Condon, Council agreed to defer a decision for two weeks to allow staff to vet the proposed site and for the County to approach Mayor Riley as to what conditions he would impose if Bees Ferry were to host the new MRF.

We note that Council members Rawl, Summey and Pryor opposed the motion. They were not in favor of Bees Ferry and probably thought the County was wasting its time. And we suspect their views will prove correct. We doubt that Mayor Riley will give Bees Ferry his blessing and thereby risk riling the nearby communities. And until we heard the presentations last night from the aspiring MRF operators and the ensuing discussion, we would have bet that the Palmetto Commerce Parkway site would be the chosen location. Although this still seems likely, it is not a certainty.

The two presentations last night were from Repower South and Sonoco Recycling. Both companies are angling to partner the County in its solid waste program, and for the management of the new MRF. Their presentations were impressive and we suspect that Council members were hearing things they had never heard before. Both companies thought that much could be done by the County to improve its recycling efforts. Repower South suggested the use of a new (or improved) technology to dispose of much waste. It had joined with SCANA in developing pellet products which could be fed along with pulverized coal as a fuel source for power generating units. However, the process was not commercially proved though obviously had promise. Sonoco, favored by Staff, praised the pellet disposal concept but noted it was not proven. If it proved commercially viable, it could be incorporated into its own plan.

Both companies envisioned the County moving at some stage to adding a mixed waste recycling facility to enable processing of commercial as well as household waste. They also expected to be able to reduce unit costs significantly, improve operating efficiencies and reduce that amount of waste going to landfills.

Sonoco had originally been asked by staff to submit a 10 year contract plan. The plan became more complex when Council at its last meeting asked for 5 and 2 year term options. In our opinion, a contract for less than 10 years did not make sense for the reasons given by the company last night and which related largely to economics.

Suffice to say that the plan proposed by Sonoco would place on it the full burden of working costs. It would be responsible for the disposal of waste and recyclable products, and would derive the major share of revenue from recycled products. The only cost to the County would be the collection of recyclables.

Sonoco would have got our vote but Council member Summey had some reservations. Firstly, the contract with Sonoco had the County paying a monthly fee beginning in 18 months if the County did not moved ahead with a new MRF. We thought the reasons provided by Sonoco for this fee were reasonable. The fee was compensation for the absence of revenue and return on their efforts. Its projections of revenue and unit costs were predicated on higher throughput following the increase in capacity. Secondly, Sonoco suggested that it might be possible to locate the MRF at the existing MRF site on Romney Street. This was an option not previously considered by the County.

It was a convoluted discussion that followed but the upshot was that the Sonoco contract was placed on hold. Republic, the existing operator whose contract expires at the end of this month will be asked to manage the Romney Street MRF for another 60 days. In the meantime staff will further explore the options for the County and the possibility of using the Romney Street site for locating a new MRF and mixed waste processing facility. Council vote was 5/3 in favor with Council members Condon, Sass and Schweers opposed

We’re slowly getting there!!

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A decision on the land swap for 995 Morrison Drive was deferred. The other party to the contract was indisposed and could not attend last night’s meeting.

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