The money behind Horry County’s flow control ordinance

jrodriguez@thesunnews.comJanuary 18, 2014 

  • Following the money

    Lobbying and Legal Fees

    The Horry County Solid Waste Authority has spent nearly $850,000 in lobbying and legal fees on flow control since its inception in 2009. Unless otherwise indicated, all of the money has come from tipping fees paid at the landfill and none has come from taxpayers.

    * Lobbying between 2009 and June 30, 2013 - $517,692

    Insurance Reserve Fund (legal expenses paid by insurance company) - $167,502

    Additional legal expenses - $164,265

    * - Horry County Solid Waste Authority has spent $50,000 annually for consulting work to Beam and Associates that is not related to flow control and not factored in this figure.

    SOURCE: Horry County Solid Waste Authority

    If you go

    What | The third and final vote of the Horry County Council on repealing the construction and demolition debris portion of flow control

    When | 6 p.m. Tuesday

    Where | Horry County Government and Justice Center, council chambers, 1301 2nd Ave, Conway

Nearly $850,000 has been spent by the Horry County Solid Waste Authority on attorneys fees and consultants to adopt and defend where garbage haulers take their waste since 2009 and Horry County Councilmen are taking a final vote Tuesday to undo part of that effort.

Councilmen have, so far, voted 6-5 twice to repeal the construction and debris portion, or C&D, of flow control and a third vote is needed to make it official. Proponents of the repeal have said they want to see the life of the landfill extended by allowing businesses to take C&D waste outside the county, and some have said the county should not dictate where a business takes its C&D debris, which is cheaper by about $8 per ton outside of Horry County.

Those who want to keep the C&D portion of flow control say the authority has spent a lot of time and money to defend its ordinance and by removing that portion, it could mean the authority may lose up to $40 million over the lifetime of the landfill if enough businesses opt to take their C&D to other landfills.

Mike Bessant, assistant executive director of the Solid Waste Authority, said the nearly $850,000 price tag for lobbyists and lawyers, which was funded fully by tipping fees and not by taxpayers, came at the cost of trying to fight nationwide garbage hauling giants in Columbia since Horry County was the first to initiate flow control.

“For the first three years, the Solid Waste Authority was the only one fighting this in the capital,” Bessant said. “We were up against several large waste companies and therefore they were spending millions of dollars a year to fight it and we had to handle the full fight for flow control. Last year was the first year that the Association of Counties stepped in... If we had not battled for the first two and a half to three years, we wouldn’t even be talking about it today because it would have passed in the capital and made flow control illegal.”

Instead, the authority, which was created by council to oversee the landfill, stuck to its guns even as Sandlands C&D Landfill and Express Disposal Service, LLC, sued the county, claiming the 2009 ordinance was against the law. The county and then-Sandlands owner William Clyburn battled it out in the state Supreme Court, which sided with the county in 2012, and then in U.S. District Court, which ruled in favor of the ordinance and dismissed the appeal last year.

Clyburn, who said he lost up to 70 percent of his revenue stream annually since flow control was enforced, sold Sandlands in May to local businessman Donald Godwin, which was about the time the county started talking about repealing the C&D portion of flow control.

Godwin had given several contributions since 2009 to Councilman Al Allen, and one to council Chairman Mark Lazarus. Both have voted to repeal the C&D portion. Allen said Godwin is a lifelong friend, but he did not know Godwin purchased the landfill until the first vote on the repeal late last year.

“I had been friends with the Godwin family, that means Donald and Marshall and their wives, for many, many years,” Allen said. “In fact, my wife’s related to Marshall’s wife. I can also tell you that I have never worked for them. I have never been an employee. I never received a check for compensation from them. I have assisted them in obtaining personal airplanes, but only in helping them shop for them and giving them advice on them... I have flown them before in their airplanes as a favor, but I have not personally flown for them in over two years. I did not know that Donald Godwin had actually purchased Sandlands landfill out there until the first reading of this ordinance was already coming up on the agenda. I did not know. Period.”

Godwin could not be reached for comment last week.

Allen said criticism is “coming from desperate people who do not want this flow control repeal passed.”

“My major concern with this flow control ordinance is that council never approved enforcing it in ways that our county code enforcement chose to enforce it,” Allen said. “That was under the direction of our former administrator John Weaver, because if I had known that they were going to hold business and residential [certificates of occupancy] until they forced the people to show that, I would have never supported it. That was not in the original ordinance. That’s an overreach of governmental power.”

Attempts to reach Weaver were not successful last week.

Allen said people like former Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland have either directly or indirectly received money from the authority to lobby for the cause.

“It’s a dirty game,” Allen said. “They’re trying their best to try and kill the third reading of this vote, so that makes me even that much more adamant to see this pass. You don’t need that much government bullying on our businesses and our citizens.”

Gilland said she has not received any money to lobby for flow control from the authority.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “I’ve never gotten a penny from them. Nobody has ever given me money to do anything whether it was politically or otherwise that was unacceptable. I’ve never been asked to be a lobbyist by anyone for anyone. I have spoken out on their behalf and have gone to Columbia on their behalf because I feel so strongly about flow control and I believe it’s the best for Horry County.”

Gilland, who has said she supports flow control because it keeps the tipping fees in Horry County, said the accusation is nothing new to her.

“I’ve heard that accusation before because I guess there’s not a guy in this county that has been in politics that will do something for nothing,” Gilland said. “There must not be, because I do something for nothing and people think I’m getting paid.”

Bessant said the cost of fighting for flow control has come “back in line” and knows that, through his experience of 20 years with a private company, this amount of money comes with the game.

“This is a nationwide issue for them,” he said of private haulers. “They try to protect their business. I understand that and respect that, but what the Horry County Solid Waste Authority is doing is trying to protect the citizens of Horry County by providing the programs. There’s money being put in this thing from all over the United States and not just here in South Carolina. They’re fighting it everywhere. It’s a business model protection, but we’re trying to protect the business of Horry County.”

Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.

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