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Solid waste: As landfill runs out of space, county weighs its options

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Accepting refuse from neighboring counties is one option Georgetown County Council is considering as it looks for ways to deal with the county’s solid waste at a lower cost.

Council members will look at that and other possible alternatives at a workshop Tuesday, continuing a discussion they started at a meeting last month when they were asked to approve funds for a landfill expansion.

Bids presented for the work started at about $2.3 million.

A $13 increase to the $44 fee for disposal of residential waste was also proposed to help pay for the work and make up for landfill fee revenues, which are down about $600,000.

Council members were reluctant to take that step.

“I don’t think there’s an appetite on council for a fee increase right now,” Council Member Glen O’Connell said. “That being the case, if the emergency is real and the fee increase isn’t going to happen and the project isn’t going to proceed, it seems there’s only one alternative and that’s looking for Plan B.”

The county will need to expand its landfill by early 2012, according to a study done last year. To have the new section open before the capacity is exhausted, construction needs to begin immediately, said Bernie Garrett of Garrett & Moore, an engineering firm specializing in waste industries.

“The goal is to transition operations into the new cells about six to 12 months before capacity is exhausted, to avoid having to operate in constricted areas at the very top of the landfill,” he said.

Construction is projected to take 18-24 months, so it really should have already been under way, he said.

While Garrett urged council members to act quickly, they said they wanted more information and time to review the situation before they made a decision.

“This is all new to us in terms of these numbers,” O’Connell said.

If construction needs to start now, council members said the matter should have been brought before them much earlier.

“The public needs to know we’ve considered every alternative out there,” Council Chairman Johnny Morant said.

The main option under consideration seems to be entering into agreements with other counties to accept their solid waste at the Georgetown County landfill.

Williamsburg County expressed interest a few years ago in sending its waste to Georgetown.

Importing waste would lower the cost per ton of disposing of solid waste at the landfill, though it would mean the landfill would reach capacity sooner.

Contracting someone to handle the county’s waste and suspending operations at the landfill is also a possibility.

“I think the cost of transportation would be too high for that to be a likely alternative, but I don’t dismiss it completely,” said Council Member Jerry Oakley. “There are a number of things we could do and we’re going to look at them all. This is due diligence.”

There was also talk of cutting mosquito control to lower expenses in the county’s environmental services budget, which includes thelandfill.

Mosquito control has been included in the environmental services budget since Fiscal Year 2000, paid with funds from millage, household fees and landfill fees.

Raising the household waste fee is the best method for increasing revenue in the environmental services budget, Garrett told council. A study done in 2004 recommended raising the household waste fee to $75, Garrett pointed out. He suggested the fee increase to $57 as part of next year’s budget.

Raising the commercial tipping fee was also considered, but it was concluded that could further reduce tonnage and increase the cost per ton to dispose of waste.

Property taxes were also ruled out as a viable funding source.

Council members said they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to make a decision next week on how to proceed, but they will have to do something soon.

“This is not a luxury, Council Member Austin Beard said.

The workshop Tuesday will begin at 4 p.m. in Council chambers. Council’s regular meeting will follow at 5:30 p.m.

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