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County Council heard Tuesday from a Kershaw Town Council member and another county resident who are upset by council’s handling of an economic development ordinance concerning a proposed landfill.
The comments were the first public outcry against the ordinance, code-named Project December and approved over several special meetings in December.
The ordinance establishes a host agreement between Lancaster County and Waste Management, a Houston-based firm that hopes to convert an existing construction and demolition landfill at Mineral Mine Road in the Flat Creek area to a landfill for solid waste disposal, including household trash.
Council revealed the nature of Project December after it unanimously approved final reading of the ordinance Dec. 29.
Kershaw Town Councilman Wade Hunter was one of those who spoke.
“It concerns me you would do something like this and not notify people,” he said.
Hunter said he was worried about the economic impact of the landfill on the town of Kershaw. He said the landfill would erode the quality of life of those living nearby by increasing traffic and the amount of trash going into the site. Hunter said he didn’t think council “put enough effort” into the issue before acting.
“All I ask is that when you lay down tonight, let it go through your mind if you’re doing the right thing,” Hunter said.
Lancaster resident Ken Faulkenberry also said he was concerned council didn’t allow public input before making its decision.
Faulkenberry pointed to similar efforts by Waste Management and another company to open landfills in Spartanburg, Williamsburg, Cherokee and Marlboro counties – all of which he said were thwarted by community action after open meetings. Faulkenberry suggested council operated in secrecy to avoid a similar reaction by Lancaster County residents.
“Spartanburg had an open meeting and there were 700 people there,” Faulkenberry said. “I just can’t believe you did this in December, in closed session, and nobody didn’t know anything about it.”
Though council does not address public comments directly as a matter of policy, Councilwoman Kathy Sistare, who was elected the new chair of council on Tuesday, discussed residents’ concerns after the meeting.
Sistare took issue with the notion that consideration of the ordinance was conducted in closed sessions and said all discussion of the ordinance was done in meetings open to the public.
She said council used the code name Project December upon the advice of County Attorney Mike Ey, since the matter involved a legal process in which the names and goals of the parties involved had to be kept confidential.
“Every meeting we talked about public perception,” Sistare said. “But the public needs to understand, the ordinance only established a host agreement. DHEC (S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control) will make the final decision, not us.”
Council did due diligence, Sistare said, by visiting a Waste Management landfill of the type proposed in Lancaster County near Atlanta.
Sistare said the landfill in Georgia defied her expectations.
“I went there expecting to see mounds of garbage, but it wasn’t like that. They bury the trash,” she said. “The only trash I saw exposed would have barely filled this (council chamber). It was just an efficiently run facility. I was surprised.”
Sistare said council fast-tracked the ordinance in December to keep from having to restart the ordinance process in January, as would have been required by state law if it wasn’t completed by the end of 2010.
In doing so, Sistare said, the county was able to negotiate concessions from Waste Management before the county Board of Zoning Appeals reviews Waste Management’s request for the property.
As part of the agreement with the county, Waste Management is required to provide free disposal of all residential solid waste generated in Lancaster County. That, officials say, would save the county more than $500,000 in annual fees from its contract with the Lee County landfill.
According to the host agreement, Waste Management must also:
• Pay the county host fees based on tonnage of waste it receives from outside the county
• Build two state-of-the-art convenience centers
• Ban hazardous waste dumping at the site
• Ensure trash collected at the dump will only come from the Carolinas
• Pledge to make a good-faith effort to hire county residents at the site
“We were looking at the benefits to the county,” Sistare said.
County Administrator Steve Willis said without the host agreement, Waste Management would have been in the position to operate without county control since the location, now known as Mining Mill Landfill, is zoned industrial.
Council approved industrial zoning for the site last summer at the request of owners Griffin Brothers Enterprises before Waste Management expressed interest in the site, Willis said.
“Landfills are a special exception,” Willis said. “If an area is zoned industrial, they can appear before the Board of Zoning Appeals and say: ‘Here’s our plan, here’s all the (industrial zoning) requirements, we met them all,’ and the Board of Zoning Appeals has to accept it.
“If we hadn’t had the host agreement, essentially we would have lost everything,” Willis said. “They could have come in, met the requirements and done what they wanted.”
Willis said the public will be able to comment next week when the Board of Zoning Appeals addresses the issue.
“If they’re planning on coming and saying, ‘We don’t like it because it’s a landfill,’” it’s not going to do any good,” Willis said. “The board has to follow the zoning ordinance requirements. You have to specifically show how this applicant is not meeting requirements.”
The Board of Zoning Appeals will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the County Council chambers at the Lancaster County Administration building on Main Street in Lancaster.
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at email@example.com or at (803) 283-1151