In an unexpected move that could change the way Charleston County disposes of its garbage for decades to come, County Council voted Thursday to break off negotiations with Montenay, the company that operates the trash incinerator in North Charleston.
The county had previously declined to renew its contract with Montenay, but had continued to negotiate, and the company had offered a sweetened but undisclosed deal to the county.
The incinerator has been the county's primary means of waste disposal for nearly 20 years, and the county's contract with Montenay expires at the end of this year.
The County Council vote at Thursday's Finance Committee meeting would have to be ratified Tuesday, when the regular council meeting is held.
Barring a change of heart by more than half the council, the decision could mean the end of the controversial waste-to-energy facility where most of the county's garbage is burned.
The vote to break off negotiations was 8-0, with Councilman Victor Rawl absent.
Residents of the North Charleston area where the incinerator is located, off Spruill Avenue, have urged the county to stop using the incinerator facility.
They have complained about truck traffic, odors and emissions from the facility.
Lee Bazzle, incinerator manager, was at the meeting when council members emerged from a closed-door executive session and voted to end negotiations.
"Obviously, this isn't something we wanted to hear," Bazzle said. "We still think we're the best option for the county."
He noted that the incinerator produces electricity and is considered a renewable energy source in South Carolina.
County Council in its vote directed the county staff to develop programs aimed at recycling 40 percent of Charleston County's waste stream, up from about 10 percent now, and "aggressively develop public/private partnerships for recycling and disposal."
Without the incinerator, more of Charleston County's household waste will have to go to the Bees Ferry Landfill, which could shorten the life of that West Ashley facility.
The county also has been considering different technologies for waste disposal, including a system that turns waste paper into compressed pellets that can be burned as fuel.
County resident Gary Lamberson represents a company that makes such a system, and he said County Council's vote Thursday was welcome news.
"I think it's a step in a positive direction for the county, in that they have eliminated the incinerator," Lamberson said. "There are better technologies around, and I think mine is one of them."
Councilman Elliott Summey said county officials have been visiting sites that use different waste disposal technologies.
"Twenty years ago, when the county decided to burn trash and generate energy, that was cutting-edge technology," he said. "It is not any longer."