A fix has been identified to stabilize sinking soils that temporarily halted construction of the new Charleston County recycling center, and the project could be back on track soon, officials said.

Contracts for the work are in the offing, and that means work on the long-awaited 57,000-square-foot facility could resume Feb. 1, county spokesman Shawn Smetana said.

Work on the the new recycling center was stopped in October when the contractor, Mashburn Construction, told the county it had concerns about the stability of the soil at the site.

Moving forward with the $24 million project could lead to cracks in the foundation if the soil beneath it settled.

Work on the new recycling center on North Charleston's Palmetto Commerce Parkway began in May, and officials said at the time they expected construction would take about a year.

If construction resumes next month, then it would open in April of 2019 or almost two years after work begins, officials said.

The proposed technique to stabilize the soil is known as “aggregate stone columns,” officials said. It involves putting stones into holes dug in the ground and then compacting them to make the ground sturdier as a foundation.

"That is the solution we are working toward," Smetana said.

The issue was discussed Thursday at a meeting of Council's environmental management committee when Tim Przybylowski, county facilities director, presented the latest on the effort.

"The proposed alternative work plan is a ground alternative strategy with aggregate piers that will be a solution that will meet or exceed our expectations," he told committee members.

Aggregate piers are not pilings, he said. "It's a ground improvement using aggregate stone columns to support the structure. The actual ground improvement is being done at no cost to the county."

"There are other additional costs as presented in executive session in the fall," he added. "Those have been contained to well within the projections."

The project is within its $14.5 million budget despite the construction delay and measures to fix the soil problem, Smetana said.

Details of the "other additional costs" were not public because the Council discussed them in executive session as a contractual matter, he said.

The county recycling center on Romney Street closed two years ago because of escalating costs, old technology, a weak market for processed recyclables and problems finding a contractor to run the operation. Since then, the county has been shipping truckloads of recyclables to Horry County at an annual cost of $1.4 million for processing at a county facility there.

Councilman Joe Qualey said the county should not have to pay anything to make the recycling center site suitable for building. Any county costs related to the situation should be made public, he said.

"It certainly has delayed us drastically and cost us a lot of money because we continue to ship our stuff to Horry County," he added.

The county spent $2.9 million to purchase the 22-acre site for its new recycling center from RCRM Family Limited Partnership of Blackville. Before the sale, the owner and an environmental consultant, Terracon, did a cleanup of the property that included excavating about 35,000 cubic yards of petroleum-impacted soil, which was replaced with fill dirt, according to a cleanup contract posted online.

An asphalt plant was located on the site, which is bounded by two landfills.

Mashburn referred questions about the project to the county. A local Terracon spokesman could not be contacted.

The new recycling center will have five times the capacity of the old one, which will improve the county's system of collecting recyclables curbside and at convenience centers. It will have state-of-the-art processing equipment, including optical sorting machines, which will produce high-quality recycled material for sale and reduce labor costs. The hope is to eventually create a partnership with Berkeley and Dorchester counties to allow their recyclable material to be processed at the new facility.

Charleston County handles 360,000 tons of garbage annually. About 30 percent of it is recycled, which reduces the amount of trash buried at landfills in West Ashley and Dorchester County.

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Reach Prentiss Findlay at 843-937-5711.