Expert: Incinerator not needed
Charleston County doesn't need an incinerator to handle its household garbage, a consultant hired by County Council said Thursday.
Incinerator's contract extension at issue, published 03/08/09
Trash incinerator air quality backed; DHEC says it meets requirements; member of citizens' panel says other problems exist, published 01/31/09
Incinerator improvements hinge on contract renewal, published 01/08/09
Union Heights residents want incinerator out of their area, published 07/13/08
Also on Thursday, the Green Committee, a citizens advisory panel on solid waste, voted against the county signing another 20-year contract with Montenay Charleston Recovery Resources, the company that runs the incinerator.
Many residents gathered in council chambers to hear recommendations to council's Finance Committee on whether to close the incinerator. The facility, which sits off Spruill Avenue in a largely industrial part of North Charleston, has been burning 70 percent of the county's household garbage for nearly 20 years.
The Finance Committee will meet March 25 to again consider the issue. Council must decide by April 1 whether to extend Montenay's contract for another 20 years, or to close the facility.
People on both sides of the issue feel passionately about it. Residents who live near the incinerator said they've suffered from the facility's smoke, ash and stench for the past 20 years. They want it to close.
Community leaders who represent the part of West Ashley in which the Bees Ferry Landfill now sits have said they're concerned about the negative impact of dumping more trash in that landfill, which is where the trash would go if the incinerator is closed.
"Garbage is kind of special," said Mitch Kessler of Kessler Consulting. "We all produce it, but nobody wants it."
County Council hired Kessler several months ago to help develop a 20-year plan for handling solid waste. His first assignment from council, he said, was to answer the question: "Do viable options exist to alleviate the need for the incinerator?"
Such options exist, he said, including increasing recycling, sending more trash to the Bees Ferry Landfill, and sending it to landfills in nearby counties when the Bees Ferry site is full.
Kessler said he couldn't weigh in on environmental concerns, which he wasn't charged to study, or on local policy issues.
So although the county doesn't need the incinerator, it might want to continue using it, depending on where it stands on those issues, he said.
Councilwoman Colleen Condon asked Kessler if he could make a stronger recommendation on whether the county should continue burning its trash.
Kessler said that if the decision were based solely on cost, he would recommend the county increase recycling and close the incinerator. Burning trash, he said, is an expensive way to get rid of it.
The county would have to spend $224 million to dispose of its solid waste over the next 20 years if it closed the incinerator and increased recycling, he said. The county now recycles 10 percent of household waste, but increasing that to 40 percent in five years is a realistic goal, he said.
It would cost $263 million to continue burning trash, even it met the 40 percent recycling goal.
The Green Committee comprises residents from different parts of the county, and some of them have expertise in certain areas of solid-waste management.
The committee voted 7-6 in favor of closing the incinerator, which is also known as the waste-to-energy facility because it converts trash to electric power.
Committee member Alec Cooley, a Mount Pleasant resident and a program manager for the National Recycling Coalition, made a presentation on the group's recommendation to the Finance Committee.
Cooley said the majority of the group voted not to renew Montenay's contract for three reasons: the facility's negative impact on nearby neighborhoods; the cost; and a sense that we "must move forward with a fundamental shift in how we handle solid waste in this county."
The group, he said, is called the Green Committee because it is charged with looking for the most environmentally sound alternatives.
Kessler also recommended that trash at the Bees Ferry Landfill be stacked to its permitted height of 172 feet. According to his study, stacks that high can't be seen from homes in existing nearby neighborhoods.
Kessler said that if the county closed the incinerator but increased recycling, the Bees Ferry Landfill would likely fill up in 14 years. If it continues to burn trash and increases recycling, the landfill will last 25 more years.
He said when the Bees Ferry site is full, the county could transport its waste to a private landfill in Dorchester County. That would require building a "transfer station" so local trash trucks wouldn't have to drive so far.
Kessler made clear to Green Committee members that he did not take into consideration health and human factors in making his recommendation.
"We did not do major health studies," he said. "It was not in the scope of what we were asked to do."