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County Council, September 29

Some uncertainty about MRF contract
Resolution by next Council meeting probable
Warwick Jones

Will the County ever build a recycling facility? It’s getting closer but if Council member Qualey had his way, a decision would be deferred for another 6 months. He wanted to wait and see if the new Material Recycling Facility (MRF) now under consideration in Berkeley County is successful. But as his peers remarked, can the County wait another 6 months and indeed, will 6 months be sufficient to see it built and assessed?

The collection and disposal of waste in Charleston, and in particular recyclables, has been an issue for some years. It became acute with the closure of the incinerator in North Charleston and the subsequent greater pressure on the Bees Ferry landfill. The pressure increased with the closure of the Romney Street recycling facility but was alleviated by shipping waste to sites outside the County. And more recently, the low prices of oil and paper have made the recycling unprofitable, not only for Charleston County, but just about everybody.

Earlier this year, the County decided to move ahead with the construction of a MRF at a recently acquired site in North Charleston. The decision was not made lightly. This issue was not only cost but what technology to use. Staff was tasked so seek and assess proposals, and to firm up a contract with Mashburn Construction, the chosen contractor.

Last night, staff brought before the Finance Committee a proposal by Mashburn. The contractor would move ahead with the pre engineering and design of the facility at a cost of $1.31 million. The completion and final cost of the project would depend on the design work but if we recall right, it is expected to be around $30 million.

We thought that some discussion on the proposal was likely but we did not expect the motion from Council member Qualey to defer the issue for 6 months. He found little support from his peers. The issue has been discussed often and fully on Council and the new MRF facility had the support of the newly appointed head of Environmental Management. However, when it came to the vote, the majority of Council opposed the award. Only Council members Schweers, Condon, Sass and Summey voted for the proposal.

It is hard to understand what the reasons were for the opposition. There were some legal issues related to the project that had to be discussed and Council went into executive session. The substance and nature of these were not disclosed to the public. Perhaps related, Mashburn wanted to undertake a Geotechnical study of the site before committing to the project, and this would cost about $10,000.

We don’t know what the legal issues are, but the Committee asked the County Attorney to attempt a resolution by Tuesday’s Council meeting. It also agreed to approve the geotechnical study. The final motion was amended a number of times and included moving ahead with staff recommendation to accept the contract with Mashburn. Another vote will be taken on the MRF on Tuesday evening and as some Committee members noted, their vote will depend on the legal advice.**
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Council also reaffirmed its commitment to Transportation in the coming half cent sales tax referendum. A presentation has been made to the Committee by COGS some months ago and Council had committed to the plan. The commitment is for a total of about $600 million of which $250 million will be for Rapid Transit (See posting County Council July 27)

**. We amended our report. The final motion was complex and we did not fully understand it. The first vote of the Committee was a rejection of the staff recommendation to accept Washburn's proposal. The final motion we understand included acceptance of the staff recommendation (We did not think it had. Our error). But we note that some members signaled that their vote on Tuesday will depend on the legal advice of the County Attorney.

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