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Horry County's limits on trash sites come under fire

A state representative is trying to find a home for legislation that would eliminate county governments' ability to regulate where their trash can be dumped, possibly voiding Horry County's flow control laws that went into effect in June.

Rep. Ted Vick, D-Chesterfield, has been shopping for a home for an amendment that would change the state waste management plan to specifically identify county laws that restrict or prohibit waste disposal at facilities outside of the county as inconsistent with state law.

Horry County was the first county in the state to enact a flow control law, and the law is being challenged in federal court by several waste haulers, including Sandlands C and D, which owns a landfill two miles outside of Horry County.

"No. 1, this is a direct circumvention of home rule and takes away some statewide power as well. I think it would be very detrimental, not only to our county but to home rule as a whole," said interim Horry County administrator John Weaver. "The [Solid Waste Authority] is not intended to be a profit center. We are interested in providing a reasonable price, but sufficient to maintain the operations of the landfill and the recycling operations and education programs. We want to maintain a reasonable amount of staffing to maintain those functions. The county did not enter into this as a money-making venture."

Horry County Council passed a resolution to encourage the county's legislative delegation to work against the amendment. Vick has tried adding the amendment to a bill that would ban electronics from landfills, but has met with some resistance. Weaver said there has been some speculation that if that amendment fails, supporters may try to add it to the budget legislation. Vick did not return a call to his legislative office Wednesday.

John Abercrombie, who manages the Sandlands landfill and is involved in the lawsuit, said the county should expect him and the other plaintiffs to fight against the flow control ordinances. Abercrombie is also running for Horry County Council.

"My company loses tens of thousands of bottom line dollars each month, which go to a quasi-governmental agency. Builders are forced to furnish documentation of where their construction waste is disposed of or they don't get a certificate of occupancy on their projects and pay higher disposal prices, and I have been forced to lay off eight employees in the last eight months, which represent over 25 family members," Abercrombie said. "Why would we not fight to keep local government from having control of our business?"

Officials at the Horry County Solid Waste Authority said eliminating the law would hurt the agency's operations. Mike Bessant, the authority's governmental affairs manager, said the law has brought an additional 1,200 to 2,000 tons of trash to the landfill each month and as much as an additional $53,000 to the agency's coffers each month.

"The Solid Waste Authority is concerned about this legislation taking away its ability to provide the programs it does to the citizens of Horry County. It will lessen our revenues, which we use to support our recycling, education and other programs," Bessant said. "We have already cut back tremendously. We cut back big time. If we lose flow control we would lose employees. We have already cut back hours, but without flow control, we would lose people."

Bessant and Weaver said the authority's lobbying group has given the resolution passed Tuesday to the Horry County delegation and is also talking to legislators from other parts of the state. Horry County Councilman Marion Foxworth said he would like to know whether the Horry County law could be grandfathered out of the change if the amendment is passed. He said a similar issue arose when the legislature tightened rules surrounding impact fees. Beaufort County and Hilton Head were grandfathered out because they had already passed laws.

Bessant said he did not believe an exception would be made because the amendment would change the state's solid waste plan, not the law that says counties must abide by the state's plan. Lawyers for the authority, along with waste haulers protesting the law are working on language for a question that will be posed to the state Supreme Court, asking whether the county ordinance steps on the state laws. A federal judge is hearing the lawsuit, but has agreed to ask the state court to rule on that question. The S.C. Supreme Court could decide not to hear the question, or to answer it, before the case is then officially decided in federal court.