The Dorchester County landfill is one step closer to increasing its capacity following initial approval by state regulators.
On Saturday, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control approved the Oakridge Landfill's first application for expansion, agreeing with the facility's position there is a need for additional acceptance space.
The next step is for Oakridge to apply for a technical permit. According to a DHEC spokesman, it will be during that phase where the public will get information on what the proposed maximum height for the landfill will be.
Residents will also have additional opportunities to voice concerns about the expansion when Oakridge submits that permit application.
The landfill is located in the unincorporated portion of Dorchester County, 13 miles northwest of Summerville on U.S. Highway 78.
In order for any expansion to take place at the landfill, the owners must attain approval through DHEC. It takes up over 800 acres of land at present. Some 205 of those acres are available for a vertical, or height expansion, and 100 acres for lateral.
In their initial request to DHEC, Promus Engineering LLC, on behalf of Oakridge said their goal is to create more space in the site's boundaries for additional waste to help better serve residents and businesses in Dorchester County and the surrounding area.
They also argued the changes do not mean they plan to increase their maximum waste intake. Oakridge had a maximum disposal rate of 2.3 billion pounds per year prior to the expansion request. They expect to maintain that restriction.
Marla Prince, a spokeswoman with Waste Management Inc., said the expansion will help ensure Oakridge can continue to serve the surrounding area for at least the next 20 years.
"And minimize the need for development of a new landfill in the region," she said.
Oakridge also has a multi-year agreement with Dorchester County where it takes in the area's residential waste. According to a Dorchester County Solid Waste Management plan in 2009, Oakridge is expected to fulfill this agreement to at least 2029.
DHEC recorded in a 2018 Solid Waste Management Annual Report that Oakridge has an estimated life of 15½ years with the current disposal restrictions. In that same report, Oakridge had recorded receiving waste from Georgia, North Carolina and all but nine of South Carolina's counties.
Most of the waste, over 344,000 tons, came from Charleston County.
In 2016, the landfill received criticism from local residents around the smell generated from the space. Though organizations such as the Coastal Conservation League attempted to fight a 2016 proposed expansion, they agreed to it following a compromise from the landfill to conserve a large wetland along the Edisto River.
Lisa Jones-Turansky, the chief strategy officer for the Coastal Conservation League, said the reality is that there is no such thing as a great landfill project. But an expansion is always preferable to building an entirely new landfill.
"The best solution is to produce less waste," she said.
Prior to the current vertical expansion request, Oakridge was seeing mounds as high as 300 feet. It also got approval of over 76 acres of expansion in 2016, according to a DHEC spokesman.
Amy Armstrong, the executive director of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, said she worries for the Four Holes Swamp and the trees that neighbor Oakridge.
If the landfill was created with today's standards, it probably wouldn't neighbor the swamp, she said. Landfills in low-lying areas are more susceptible to leaching into the surrounding swamp.
"Unfortunately, the decision to locate a landfill in this sensitive area was made long ago," she said.
Residents will have the opportunity to file an appeal to DHEC's Oakridge decisions through submitting a written request for a final review of the department's approval. Information on how to submit the request can be found online through DHEC's website.