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Panhandle firefighters responded to what sheriff’s office investigators have deemed a suspicious fire at Pressley’s Recycling Center in Indian Land.
Located at 9531 Charlotte Highway, the company has been the focus of unwanted public attention this year after it was discovered to have been in violation of several environmental regulations.
The fire occurred just days after the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control issued the company a new air-quality operating permit for a previously unpermitted concrete crusher.
Pleasant Valley and Indian Land volunteer fire departments were called to the facility at 11:38 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, after a security guard at a company on HSBC Way behind Pressley’s saw on his security cameras what was first believed to be a brush fire on the property.
According to the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office incident report and Fire Marshal Stephen Blackwelder, firefighters on the scene found a large grinder used to grind wood pallets fully engulfed.
Firefighters had to wait for about 45 minutes for Pressley’s owner Ron Olsen to arrive from his home in Charlotte and open the gate before they could attack the fire, Blackwelder said.
“The grinding machine was on fire. It had been burning for a little while, as had a pile of pallets and a pile of mulch,” Blackwelder said.
“It was very labor-intensive, too; took a lot of time and a lot of equipment to get it under control.”
Blackwelder said Olsen loaned firefighters some of his heavy equipment to fight the fire by splitting the piles up into smaller piles. Despite dumping about 9,000 gallons of water on the fire, some piles were still smoldering Sunday.
Blackwelder said the grinder’s reservoir of hydraulic fluid reignited, as well.
The fire has been ruled suspicious because the business was closed for the weekend and, according to Olsen, the grinder had not been used since Dec. 6.
Olsen is expected to review footage from video cameras, but as of Saturday had no suspect whom he believed would have set the machine on fire, the report said.
The company’s vice president of business development, George Linville, was busy when contacted and unable to comment on the fire before deadline.
The value of the 2010 Bandit horizontal grinder was estimated at $450,000.
DHEC’s issuance of a new air-quality operating permit for Pressley’s brings to an end an episode that began more than a year ago when Indian Land residents’ complaints led to a Dec. 16 DHEC compliance letter outlining several regulatory violations there.
Among the violations DHEC officials discovered during an inspection was the company’s use of an unpermitted concrete grinder.
The department issued the new permit Dec. 3, about three months after a public meeting on the matter and the Aug. 23 close of a month-long public comment period.
There were no substantive changes between the draft permit and the permit issued last week.
Linville said as of Monday the company hadn’t received its copy of the permit from DHEC, though it has already started making changes suggested in the draft.
“As soon as we saw the draft, we started putting in place the controls we needed,” Linville said.
As with the draft, the air- quality permit is for the concrete crusher system, but also dictates requirements and limitations on the operation of two other grinders, as well as the testing and storage of asphalt shingles.
Reaction to permit
DHEC spokeswoman Karen Lee said though only two Indian Land residents sent in written comments expressing their suggestions for the permit, the department also considered concerns expressed by residents at the Aug. 7 meeting.
Joan Yench, who lives near the recycler in the Fox Ridge neighborhood, is one of the residents who sent DHEC a written comment to the proposed permit.
Yench said she’s not surprised nothing changed between the draft permit and the final permit.
“I thumbed through it, but it was already a done deal,” Yench said of the permit. “We all knew it was a done deal back then. I knew it wasn’t going to change just from the way that they (DHEC officials) responded to some of the people’s comments.”
Jane Tanner, who along with friend Beve Lynch, lodged the original complaints that led to the compliance letter against Pressley’s, worries that when public attention to the company fades away, it will once again slip out of compliance.
The problem, Tanner said, is there are no “teeth” to DHEC’s policies as shown by the department’s refusal to fine the company.
With the lack of action by state and local officials to ensure violations never happen again, Tanner said she’s been demoralized by the whole procedure.
“We went to the right people ... we found the violations, so what happened?” Tanner said. “They didn’t even slap his hand. It’s very frustrating. The whole thing.
“We tried very hard, but I don’t feel like we accomplished anything,” she said. “But we tried.”
In general, the permit imposes requirements on the opacity, or thickness, of concrete dust emissions from the concrete grinder, facility-wide dust control, materials process, recordkeeping and reporting and shingle asbestos testing.
u The permit outlines the type of attendant equipment on the crusher, such as conveyor belts and water-suppression equipment to minimize dust from the grinding process.
u Limits the crusher’s operating hours to 20 hours a week and 1,040 hours a year; the crusher’s operations must be metered and logged.
u Requires the business to develop a property-wide “fugitive dust control plan,” which applies to the whole facility and includes the use of sprinklers and water trucks to keep dust emissions low.
u Limits the use of the tub grinder to grinding asphalt shingles and “clean wood,” such as untreated lumber, tree stumps or limbs; the concrete grinder must only grind concrete.
u Limits the use of the horizontal grinder to clean wood and asphalt shingles.
u Spells out testing requirements to monitor for shingles containing asbestos and their handling, if found; requires record keeping of shingle take in and testing; and requires that the shingle tester be licensed. For details, visit www.dhec/pressleysrecycling.
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151