By Paul Gable
The political war over garbage escalated this past week as the state senate may be close to passing a bill that would eliminate county government’s ability to be monopolist garbage czars.
Specifically at risk is Horry County’s flow control ordinance that requires all garbage generated in the county to be disposed of at the Horry County Solid Waste Authority landfill on Hwy 90. The new bill would make flow control illegal throughout the state.
News of the bill surfaced in newspapers serving Columbia and Horry County over the past couple of days raising the specter of massive amounts of toxic waste from New York City flowing into Horry County if the bill passes.
Anything’s fair in political wars and nothing requires the propaganda associated with them to have any element of truth. Both of those dubious standards are being stretched to the limit in Horry County’s garbage war.
The environmentalists have joined forces with the SWA to fight against passage of the state bill to eliminate flow control. Waste haulers, both large and small, have joined free market legislators supporting the bill. Environmentalists against big business, sound familiar?
One of the more outlandish tactics in this fight was a letter sent to the SWA and Horry County council members by a Tabor City, N.C. attorney claiming to represent a “New York client”, saying the client was interested in buying the SWA landfill. To their credit, most of the county council members saw through this one.
Just for the record, this is not a new tactic. The SWA used it over a decade ago when it was involved in another dubious and unpopular fight over disposal of the county’s garbage. That time they had a highly priced political consultant design a mail piece filled with totally false information complete with pictures of garbage barges purportedly floating down the Intracoastal Waterway to Horry County.
Several years later, the SWA board agreed to host a multi-county regional landfill, burying the garbage of 10 S.C. counties in the Hwy 90 landfill. County council killed that idea, but burying Horry County garbage with garbage from other counties in a mega landfill on Hwy 90 didn’t seem to be a problem to the SWA.
When the county passed its flow control ordinance in 2009, allowing the SWA to establish a monopoly over garbage disposal in Horry County, the main threat voiced by then county attorney John Weaver was the huge financial liability the county faced if it allowed its garbage to be buried with garbage from other counties.
Last week, according to quotes in the newspapers, Weaver was telling the world this (legislation) would open the SWA landfill to the prospect of becoming mega-sized with out-of-county and out-of-state waste.
The theory behind this nonsense is that without flow control, large waste haulers would intentionally lose money to take Horry County waste to other landfills, such as the Lee County landfill, in order to bankrupt the SWA landfill. Years later, these same haulers would swoop in to buy the bankrupt landfill in order to bring out-of-state waste into Horry County, supposedly at large profits.
This is typical Weaver hyperbole. After nearly 10 years as the county attorney, he went on to serve a short period as county administrator, assuming that position when Danny Knight retired. Knight moved from county administrator to SWA executive director and now Weaver has joined his old colleague, at least in this garbage war.
This same duo led the county’s abortive attempt (2003-2007) to build a new (over $500 million) passenger terminal and additional runways at Myrtle Beach International Airport in order to serve the tens of thousands of tourists from Europe and Japan who were ready to swarm into Myrtle Beach.
Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and a majority of county council ultimately voted to kill that fantasy filled plan. Unfortunately, with flow control, council bought into the fantasy.
This battle really doesn’t have as much to do with Horry County’s flow control ordinance as it does with the failure of the environmentalists to get a “bottle bill” passed to mandate statewide recycling of beverage containers.
The environmentalists blame Horry County Rep. Nelson Hardwick (R-106) for bottling up (no pun intended) the “bottle bill” in the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee of which he is chairman. Hardwick is also blamed by the SWA for engineering House passage of the legislation to outlaw flow control.
Hardwick has consistently maintained he doesn’t believe in “government run monopoly”, which he sees as just another way for government to take money from taxpayers’ pockets.
The environmentalist lobby apparently sees Hardwick as an obstacle in the statehouse that must be removed in order to achieve its goals. Sources tell us the environmentalist lobby is supporting the primary challenge to Hardwick of Rod Smith, a Surfside Beach town council member and former SWA board member.
Actually we are told Smith is about the fourth choice of the environmentalist lobby, but the one who was willing to take on the fight with Hardwick for House District 106.
One of the more outlandish stories we are hearing is the environmentalists approached former Horry County Council chair Liz Gilland to be Hardwick’s opponent. Reportedly, in addition to promising Gilland campaign financing, the environmentalist lobby offered to pay rent for three years on a residence in Hardwick’s district, which Gilland would use as her legal residence. Gilland turned down the offer choosing to file for House District 105 instead.
The garbage war in the statehouse combined with a probable mud-slinging campaign in District 106 means the next three weeks could be fun-filled spectacles for political watchers throughout the state.