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Horry County trash flow eyed by state Senate

Horry County is facing more legislative challenges over its trash laws this week as an S.C. Senate subcommittee holds a hearing today on a new Senate bill proposing to end the county's control on where its trash is thrown away.

The Senate bill, which was introduced by Sen. Danny Verdins, R-Laurens, asks the legislature to amend the state's solid waste rules to say that any county ordinance that restricts trash from being dumped at landfills outside of that county's limits is inconsistent with state law. Similar legislation was shopped in the Assembly as an amendment that legislators had tried to attach to different bills, but failed.

Horry County is the only county in the state that has passed a flow control ordinance, which says that all trash generated in the county must be dumped at the Horry County Solid Waste Authority landfill on S.C. 90 or at another facility chosen by the authority. A delegation of Horry County officials from the Horry County Solid Waste Authority and the county government will try to comment at the hearing today.

"I'm going up to speak before the subcommittee. We followed every bit of law we could find, and we thought that it had been thoroughly approved all the way through the U.S. Supreme Court. If we lose flow control, we will lose a steady, consistent source of funding for everything the Solid Waste Authority funds," said Horry County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland. "Within the law, we are able to restrict the waste to our borders, we can protect it from being contaminated, and we can protect Horry County from a lawsuit for waste contaminated from someone else's waste in an outside landfill. We have space here; we have space for the future. We have a really good plan."

Private waste haulers have argued that Horry County's laws create a monopoly and that they haven't been allowed to dump trash at facilities just over the county line with cheaper dumping fees. One of those landfills and a private hauler have filed a lawsuit against the county that is being heard in federal court.

Representatives from the waste authority said the current bill is better for the authority because legislators will have to look at it on its own merits instead of voting for a budget bill or other legislation that the amendment has been tacked onto. The authority had a lobbyist on standby this year to alert them to such legislation and to help combat the challenge.

"We were able to move quickly because of that. We were able to tell them the effects it would have on us: losing 8 percent of work force, having to cut recycling education programs. We'd have to cut back that much. The county would lose money for the 911 service, too," said Mike Bessant, government affairs manager for the Solid Waste Authority. "If we kept all those programs, we would have to increase our fees by 10 percent. As fees go up, then trash goes away, and eventually, we would have to become taxpayer reliant to survive."

Rep. Ted Vick, D-Chesterfield, who introduced the amendment a few weeks ago, said he felt the industry issue was bigger than just Horry County.

"I met a gentleman in the Senate chambers who told me Horry County was trying to bankrupt him by preventing the disposal of C&D waste into his state-permitted landfill, which is located in Marion County. From what he told me, the amount of waste coming in from Horry County was a significant factor, which was evaluated by the state during the permitting of his landfill," he said. "It sounded like Horry County's policy may be too restrictive and may violate the state Solid Waste Management Act, which permits landfills based on several factors. If the county boundary line is the only factor that Horry County used to determine where the solid waste generated in Horry County could be disposed, the county policy may be inconsistent with the state guidelines."

The County Council passed the flow control ordinance to increase tipping fees, which are used to support the function of the landfill as well as the recycling and education programs. A portion of those fees also go to the county to fund its E-911 service. Fees had been down because trash was leaving the county, so Bessant said the authority lobbied the council for the law to try and prevent the loss of staff and programs.