WINNSBORO — A meeting called last week by the Fairfield County Council to discuss flow control legislation drew about 25 attendees who learned that one way to control what goes into a landfill is for the county to own the facility.
County Council Chairman David Ferguson said he had hoped Sen. Creighton Coleman would attend and make last Wednesday’s event a moderated debate between his point of view and the differing opinion of the S.C. Association of Counties.
Coleman did not attend but Rep. MaryGail Douglas gave her opinion on flow control and representatives from the S.C. Association of Counties restated reasons they believe counties should retain home rule to regulate what kind of landfill trash disposal happens within their borders.
Residents also weighed in during a public question and answer session moderated by Interim County Administrator Milton Pope.
Robert Croom with the the S.C. Association of Counties expressed concerns a change in the flow policies could cause counties to default on revenue bonds.
He said the SCAC found there were 21 counties with something that would be voided contractually in some fashion if the legislation passes. An alternative to defaulting on a bond would be selling a landfill to a private company.
Croom said the problem that poses for municipalities is that, according to the U.S. Commerce Clause, a state and local government cannot prohibit out-of-state waste.
“The only way for a county to have a say (about waste disposal) is for the county to own the landfill,” Croom said.
In his view the main difference between a private and public landfill is in the way the facility is used.
A private landfill is about profit so the impetus is on filling it as quickly as possible with waste that brings in the most revenue. A public, county-owned landfill, he said, understands the expense involved in creating a landfill and enacts policy to fill the entity at as slow a rate as is practical.
There are around 17 landfills in the state now, down from 76 when the EPA Solid Waste Management Act passed in the early 1990s. Landfills are financed in three ways: a combination of geobonds and tipping fees, cash, and revenue bonds combined with tipping fees.
Croom said county wide zoning could help counties retain some control over where a privately owned landfill is placed but few counties have that. He also mentioned that a bond attorney advised the bond saving provision in the proposed bill would be ineffective.
Dwayne Perry, vice chairman of county council, asked Croom how many counties favored the flow bill. Croom said a sizable majority of counties oppose it.
Croom said Fairfield County currently has options including the Screaming Eagle Road facility with which it contracts now. If those rates became too high, then Union r maybe Three Rivers could be options.
But rural counties with what he termed “cheap dirt” appeal to private landfill companies. Ferguson mentioned the number of wells in Fairfield County and how its aquifer and watertable could be at risk.
Douglas said the bill was passed through the House quickly last year. She said after learning more from Ferguson and county officials her position was strengthened as being opposed to the bill in its current form. Douglas sees the flow legislation as a potential hardship for smaller counties and said there is language in the current bill that needs to be clarified.
Croom said the county has no authority to regulate the bonds of a private company nor could a county vary a state statute. The only tool for regulation available to a county is its zoning and in a best case scenario it takes six to 12 months to enact a county wide zoning policy.
Perry said he was on the other side of a landfill debate years ago, taking on county council to stop development of a landfill on a large rural tract near his home. He noted that landfills almost happened twice in the county, in Ridgeway and Jenkinsville, but since the county was involved, citizen activists could make their voices heard and get results.
Gail Ross from Ridgeway spoke out against private landfills as did Jennifer Barnes from Jenkinsville. Barnes said people in Jenkinsville are concerned by the well issue and said that just because a bill was promoted as pro business did not mean it would help local businesses.
Perry said it is council’s responsibility to listen to constituents and let the county delegation know how they feel on this issue.
Ferguson said he was disappointed in the low turnout for the meeting, calling it one that really matters to the long term well-being of the county’s land, infrastructure and finances. He thanked those who did come out for their decorum and for doing their research on the issues.