By Paul Gable
Horry County Council will be voting Tuesday night on a revised Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) but questions about what is and what is not included in that plan remain to be answered before it is sent to the S. C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).
The SWMP is an important guidance document in that it outlines the plan the county has for the handling of solid waste for the next 20 years. Prior to requesting a permit from DHEC for change or expansion of services, that change or expansion must be included as part of the SWMP.
The SWA has chosen to update its SWMP every three years. However, this year’s update includes plans for major landfill expansion projects that have only recently been introduced and with only sketchy details discussed in the plan and associated meetings.
Before the document is sent to DHEC, the SWMP receives approvals/endorsements of its contents from the Horry County Solid Waste Authority Board (SWA), a public hearing, city councils in the county and Horry County Council.
However, few questions have been asked about the overall plan or the expansion added in its latter stages. The SWA board acts as a rubber stamp for anything the SWA staff puts before it. Only one citizen participated in the public hearing. Of the city council members I have spoken to representing several of the municipalities in the county, none realized they voted approval for a proposed large expansion at the landfill. The county’s Infrastructure and Regulation Committee listened to the presentation at its meeting last week, asked few questions, none really in-depth, and recommended sending the resolution of approval forward to full council.
This lack of curiosity about major revisions at a county agency is neither proper oversight, due diligence nor good government.
If the expansions are approved as proposed, the authority will eventually have a class III (municipal solid waste) lined landfill on top of a class II (construction and demolition debris) unlined landfill, both on top of the original Conway dump site which contains municipal solid waste in an unlined pit.
At a recent board meeting, SWA Executive Director Danny Knight told board members the latest expansion plan was moving forward because it was the authority’s responsibility to maximize the use of available land at the Hwy 90 site for waste disposal.
Actually, that statement runs counter to the ordinance that established the SWA in December 1990. Ordinance 60-90 states there is a need to develop an acceptable alternative for solid waste disposal and to reduce the amount of tonnage disposed in sanitary landfills in Horry County. It further states the high water table and other geologic characteristics in Horry County “make utilization and expansion of the existing landfill and development of new landfills especially expensive and difficult.”
Revenue required for full implementation of the plan over the next 20 years is approximately $642 million, according to plan documents.
The SWA is already running a deficit for closure and post-closure funds required by DHEC. In January 2018, Vance Moore, the contract engineer for the SWA estimated the fund total needed for closure and post-closure of the landfill was $30,859,854. According to SWA documents, as of 8/31/2018, the authority had $18,150,126 in accounts restricted for closure and post-closure costs.
Even though the funds are designated as restricted, the SWA has been borrowing from them for current needs. This borrowing appears to increase through 2024, according to spread sheets detailing revenues and expenses for the proposed expansions that Moore provided to the SWA.
It appears the SWA will have approximately $3 million in closure and post-closure fund accounts by the end of 2024 while the amount required for closure and post-closure funding as of the end of 2024 will be approximately $33 million.
How will the $30 million deficit be made up?
Each year the SWA is required to file with DHEC a letter of financial assurance demonstrating where sufficient closure and post-closure funding will come from to meet DHEC requirements. Each year, the SWA pledges the Horry County general fund revenue to make up the difference between SWA accounts and the amount needed to satisfy DHEC requirements.
This pledging of county general fund monies by the SWA violates another portion of the founding document. Ordinance 60-90 stated the county would deed to the SWA all land and assets related to solid waste collection in the county. For that, the SWA would pay the county an agreed upon price at the time of transfer.
After the transfer and payment, Ordinance 60-90 states, “It is further contemplated that the Authority shall upon receipt of the assets relieve Horry County of the responsibility for and liability connected to solid waste collection and disposal.” Obviously Horry County is not relieved of responsibility and liability for solid waste collection and disposal if Horry County general fund revenue is pledged as part of the financial assurance for closure and post-closure costs reported to DHEC.
Is Horry County Council even aware of this pledging of county general fund revenues against SWA future liabilities? Does council understand this pledging violates Ordinance 60-90? Does this pledge of county general fund revenue adversely affect the county’s ceiling for issuance of county general obligation bonds or the rating of those bonds?
Is it too much to ask the SWA to abide by the provisions of the ordinance that established the agency or for Horry County Council to conduct proper oversight of the SWA to insure the SWA does abide by those provisions?
One other disturbing fact emerged from the SWMP revision. The SWA class III landfill is permitted to take up to 750,000 tons of municipal solid waste per year, according to the permit issued by DHEC. The SWA has recently requested an increase in the permitted annual tonnage.
In 2017, the SWA received approximately 268,000 tons of MSW at the landfill. The SWMP estimates an increase of 2% per year in landfill tonnage. Why does the SWA, which is already permitted to take three times the amount generated on an annual basis in Horry County, feel the need to further increase the annual permitted tonnage?
What isn’t being told to council and will council perform its due diligence and ask for complete explanations to these questions before voting approval to a revision of the SWMP?