When Charleston County Council agreed earlier this year to shut its garbage incinerator and rely more on its Bees Ferry landfill, several West Ashley residents panicked.
Rumors circulated that the county was expanding the landfill to accommodate its new waste disposal plans and that the county didn't ask the public whether they approved the dump expansion.
It turns out those rumors were true, sort of.
In July, the county applied for permits from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to expand the size and height of a cell that holds construction and demolition debris.
The cell's footprint can now be increased by 5.5 acres, and its height can be doubled from 74 feet to up to 168 feet. The new height nearly matches the already permitted height of 170 feet for cells holding household trash. While the state agency issued two public notices about the change before giving approval, the county didn't hold a public hearing on the matter.
Some West Ashley residents say they should have had the opportunity to share their concerns with County Council members in an open forum. "They slipped it right by us," said Thomas Peri, who lives in Grand Oaks Plantation off Bees Ferry Road. Peri e-mailed Councilman Curtis Bostic and his neighbors after learning about the permitted expansion.
Bostic said he wants the county to backtrack and ask the public to weigh in. "The law doesn't require we do that, technically, but I think the spirit and intent of the law requires we do it," he said.
Council is slated to discuss the issue today during its Finance Committee meeting.
In 2002, county staff approached the council about the future of waste disposal countywide. First, there were questions about what would happen when the Bees Ferry landfill filled up. Secondly, a growing amount of construction and demolition debris was being deposited at the dump, outpacing typical household trash deposits from cities and towns.
Bostic said they decided to move forward with plans to build a new landfill off U.S. Highway 17 in the southernmost part of the county and that they also approved enlarging the Bees Ferry landfill's cell for holding construction and demolition waste.
That plan didn't call for the county to expand its entire landfill site, rather it would build up an area designated for construction and demolition trash, Bostic said.
The state agency first issued permits for the landfill in 1997. "All DHEC did was modify our existing permit," said Gregg Varner, the county's solid waste director.
On Jan. 17, the same day County Council initially approved no longer letting private haulers dump construction and demolition waste at the Bees Ferry landfill, the state agency OK'd the county's permit application. Construction material from municipalities and residents is still allowed, and the extra space will help serve those primary customers, Varner said.