By Paul Gable
As expected, a full court press was applied yesterday to try and save the HCSWA – Charleston County recycling deal.
Unfortunately, this appears to be a full court press applied at the wrong time, in the wrong place for the wrong reasons.
The press is being applied to the council members who voted “No” on second reading of a budget amendment needed to allow the recycling deal to continue. With enough pressure, it is hoped that at least two will change their minds and vote to pass second reading after a reconsideration motion.
In other words, the press is strictly in the political arena while the problems are in the institutional oversight of solid waste matters within Horry County.
These are exactly the same types of problems that led Horry County Council to pass a flow control ordinance governing all solid waste in the county only to realize five years later that the ordinance was flawed in concept and needed to be amended.
The debate was fully political, not about policy. A few members of HCSWA staff combined with a few members of county staff to make dire predictions about what would happen to solid waste handling within the county if flow control was not enacted.
None of the dire predictions were true, as experience has taught us since 2009.
The HCSWA fought against amending the flow control ordinance, including spending over $1 million with a lobbyist, again with dire predictions that were just as false.
In fact, the amendment, which allows construction and demolition debris to be taken to any approved landfill, works in favor of the citizens of Horry County be reducing the amount of space used in the landfill thereby extending its life.
But the HCSWA fought the concept of saving landfill space, a policy that works to the benefit of all citizens of Horry County because the landfill on Hwy 90 is the last that will ever be built in Horry County.
How many times are we going to allow this type of process to continue?
The budget amendment required for the recycling deal to continue failed to pass second reading of Horry County Council Tuesday night not because it was a bad deal, but because the process used to establish it was seriously flawed.
That is the reason four council members voted to say ‘enough is enough.’ And if the deal is ultimately saved, as some predict, without solving the underlying problems that led to its failure in the first place, the process will remain seriously flawed to the detriment of the citizens of Horry County.
The contract between the HCSWA and Charleston County appears to be a potential win-win, although I have seen some analysis and numbers recently that bring into question whether Horry County will actually make a profit on the two-year contract.
Even if Horry County only breaks even or actually loses a little money on the deal, maybe that is not too high a price to pay for being a good neighbor to Charleston County in its time of need.
The most important policy decision for the citizens of Horry County, however, is to ensure that we are not filling valuable landfill space with trash from another county. The number one goal of county council and the HCSWA must be to preserve our landfill asset for as long as possible.
However, failing now to stop the tail from wagging the dog, in all matters of solid waste within Horry County, will mean county council again failed to correct a very serious problem with its oversight of the HCSWA.
To a lesser, but just as serious, extent the HCSWA board must ensure it makes the policy decisions at the HCSWA and does not just act as a rubber stamp for staff decisions as has happened too often in the past.
There is absolutely no justification for HCSWA staff being allowed to go forward in negotiations with Charleston County for 60 or more days before the HCSWA board formally voted on the contract.
It is even more egregious for the contract to have been signed and Charleston County allowed to bring loads of recyclables to the HCSWA for over two weeks before Horry County Council took its first vote on the needed budget amendment. And, even then, many council members had not been provided with a copy of the contract they were being asked to vote on.
What if several members of the county planning staff approved plans for a big box retail store to be built on former golf course land in Deer Track or in place of the golf course in Prestwick? Staff gave the go ahead, allowed construction to begin for several weeks, then, asked county council to approve an amendment to the zoning ordinance making this allowable?
I fail to see any difference in this theoretical example from what actually happened with the HCSWA – Charleston County recycling contract.
And I would venture to guess that those members of county staff in the theoretical example would be looking for new jobs very quickly if such a thing ever happened.
Changes to the process must be made by both Horry County Council and the HCSWA board.
The HCSWA board must ensure it is the entity that makes policy decisions for the agency while the HCSWA staff carries out that policy once the decision is made.
Horry County Council must ensure it has open communication with the HCSWA board and is willing to step in when necessary in its role as the overall policy making body for Horry County government.
Any other result will only exacerbate an already bad situation with how solid waste management decisions are made in Horry County.