CONWAY — An Horry County Councilman is concerned the county may face a lawsuit if it repeals a portion of its flow control ordinance it has fought so hard for during the last four years.
Councilman Harold Worley said Friday he would like the County Council to talk at its meeting Tuesday in closed session about possible litigation the county could face. State law allows government bodies to go into closed session for various reasons, including possible and pending litigation.
The county fought hard – all the way to the U.S. District Court of Appeals – to make sure construction and demolition, or C&D, debris from buildings in Horry County, among other waste, stayed in Horry County. The ordinance, passed in 2009, financially hurt private landfills outside of Horry County. So much so, that two landfills filed a lawsuit against the county claiming the ordinance violated the law. The county has beat that suit at the state and federal levels.
Now, council is slated to consider repealing the C&D portion of that ordinance at its meeting Tuesday, which officials at the Horry County Solid Waste Authority said could cost the county up to $78,000 in fees it receives and more than $900,000 in revenue for the authority. Worley said the county must also be aware that it could face lawsuits for damages if it reverses its stance on the C&D part of the ordinance.
“Now that the courts have agreed that we did it right, if we go and, in essence, reverse that, what is going to keep these haulers, all 400 of them, from going back and saying, ‘... I told you so. I want my $25 million in damages,’” Worley said. “How are we going to defend that?”
Worley then suggested the committee members talk about the issue openly at the county’s Administration Committee Friday, until County Attorney Arrigo Carotti advised councilmen should talk about matters that could result in litigation in closed session.
“We’re not going to be able to move forward from this committee until we get some answers,” Worley said. “And if it needs to be in an executive session, that’s fine. But we’re going to have a discussion about that because I think it’s important... Just my gut feeling says, if I was a jury and you came into me and me sitting in on that jury, and you explained what’s been going on and all of the sudden this council says we think it’s wrong too, I want my four years of damages, and I don’t think we’re prepared to do that.”
“I want to see all the council, around this table, in executive session so you guys can tell us that we’re not going to get sued if we pass this and have to pay out millions of dollars in damages for what we did four years ago. Why would we do something that’s going to cost the taxpayers more money?”
Officials at the Solid Waste Authority have estimated about 35,000 tons of C&D waste could leave the county for more affordable dumping rates and for its proximity to other landfills.
Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said the estimate of 35,000 tons is “totally off base” and thinks the county may lose between 10,000 and 15,000 tons – something the county can pick up, he said.
“I think with the uptick in the economy and the building that’s going on and the fact that building permits are soaring in the county right now, I think it’s going to take care of itself and there aren’t going to be any losses,” Lazarus said.
Lazarus then stressed what he feels about the controversial issue, and said the county must look to the future with this issue, as well.
“The bottom line to this is when C&D, and I wasn’t on council at the time... but in my opinion, C&D should have never been part of flow control anyway,” he said. “It hurts small businesses. It changed the way some small businesses operated and it actually put some of them out of business or hurt them.
“We got a dilemma on our hands of filling this landfill, by Solid Waste Authority’s own proposal, in 25 years it’s going to be full. Any and everything that we can do to increase the longevity of that landfill is to our benefit.”
Councilman Jody Prince said he will consider the wear and tear the estimated 3,500 trucks that will leave Horry County roads if the C&D portion is repealed.
“I could probably start a campaign and line them all along the walls of this building with people on the Highway 90 corridor probably all the way down... to [Highway] 57 that would say they would love to see 3,500 less trucks on our roads every year,” he said.
Worley said it all comes down to private companies what their share of the $18 million business of the Solid Waste Authority.
“At the end of the day, isn’t that what they want to get their fingers in? That $18 [million]. Isn’t that what this is all about?” Worley said before turning to the video camera that records council meetings. “The people back home, you need to understand you’re fixin’ to get your clock cleaned.”
He also said it could burn a bridge with the South Carolina Association of Counties, which helped Horry County defend the flow control ordinance.
“The Association of Counties has jumped on board with us and backed us on every turn that we made, and here we are changing our mind,” Worley said. “What in the world is wrong with that?”
Stuart Morgan, public information director for the association, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Councilman Marion Foxworth said he, too, could see the repeal hurting the county’s relationship with the association.
“I think that leaves us in a very awkward position the next time we need their help on something,” Foxworth said.
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.