People from Williamsburg County call their quiet, rural home "the big woods" and live in fear that tons of trash could ruin it.
They haven't forgotten that a private company wanted to build a giant 2.3 million-ton landfill, a "mega-dump" collecting garbage from other states, in their community a few years ago. The contractor agreed to take all of Williamsburg County's garbage for free and to pay the county $2 to $2.50 for every ton of trash that came from outside the county.
Residents fought the idea of importing trash so ardently that Williamsburg County Council severed its ties with the company and even paid a $750,000 buyout.
They also haven't forgotten the old county landfill in Salters, an unlined dump site near the river, which closed in March for failing to meet state and federal regulations.
So when a new landfill proposal cropped up this year, locals prepared for another fight. The problem: They don't know their enemy or even the battleground.
They only know that the proposed landfill, constructed and operated by a private company at the company's expense, would handle up to 400,000 tons of trash a year and supposedly would serve only South Carolina, with no out-of-state garbage allowed.
Williamsburg County Council must submit to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control its proposed site for the landfill by Sept. 27. Until then, the site remains a secret from those who live in the county -- a contractual matter, according to county leaders -- and they haven't been allowed to ask questions at council meetings.
They've held their own meetings at campgrounds and churches, coming together to wonder aloud whether county officials have set their sights on Greeleyville or Warsaw or Hemingway.
"Our main problem right now is that we can't get any information from anybody," said Beth Tisdale, who lives in Kingstree. "They're telling us there won't be any out-of-state garbage coming in, but we're going to make money on it. Well, how is it going to make money if it's for 400,000 tons, and we (the county) only produced 16,000 tons last year?"
To make residents even more apprehensive, one of their own watchdogs participated in a special committee called the Solid Waste Advisory Committee to plan the landfill proposal. Tommy Stuckey, a farmer and vocal critic of the mega-dump, served on the committee but says now, "It's so obvious to anyone with common sense that the S.W.A.C. was a setup."
That's because the man who educated the committee on the landfill project works for HDR Inc., the consulting company for the county's solid waste engineering department.
"They make money off of engineering, building and monitoring landfills," Stuckey said. "They don't make any money when the county decides to haul the waste out."
Williamsburg County Supervisor Stanley Pasley pointed out that HDR brings institutional knowledge. The company has been working with the county on these exact issues for 20 years.
Pasley also said a new landfill makes financial sense for residents and businesses. Without a landfill, the county had to sign a five-year agreement for $1.8 million per year to haul garbage away, at a cost of $111 per resident every year.
"If we exercise our ability to utilize our existing landfill permit, we can reduce, at a minimum, and possibly eliminate these fees to our citizens," Pasley said.
He also worries that the existing disposal costs could prove to be a turnoff to new businesses considering Williamsburg County.
"We put ourselves in less of a competitive position by having additional fees," Pasley said. "This is one of the facts they look at in locating … It just makes financial sense to do the right thing."
But Stuckey said his S.W.A.C. committee's proposal to the county amounted to nothing more than a document that an HDR representative had created.
It left what Stuckey calls "back-door openings." The proposal allows for an expansion of the landfill and for the dump to accept out-of-state garbage in the event that the landfill becomes a financial burden.
Pasley said County Council holds the position that the landfill will not accept out-of-state garbage and that it plans to make that stipulation in any agreement with a private company. That's not good enough for Stuckey.
"I was adamantly opposed to 2.3 million tons, and I'm adamantly opposed to a 400,000-ton landfill," he added. "Someone asked, 'Is this a mega-fill?' In my opinion 400,000 tons is still a mega-fill."
Williamsburg County residents want answers. They set up a Facebook page, Williamsburg County Folks Against the Nesmith Landfill, and filed a lawsuit with help from the S.C. Environmental Law Project and the Coastal Conservation League.
The case against Williamsburg County and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control alleges that DHEC modified Williamsburg County's permit from 35,000 tons to 400,000 tons of solid waste without giving public notice. It also claims that there is no need for the landfill.
The case rests in the state Administrative Law Court.
Williamsburg County Council already adopted the S.W.A.C.'s recommendation to open a landfill in the county. County Council meets Tuesday at 6 p.m. with time set aside for public comment on this topic.
The location of the proposed landfill, however, will be discussed only in private session.