By SEANNA ADCOXCOLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) ¿ Conservationists and residents who say they don't want to live near ever-rising mounds of garbage are urging South Carolina lawmakers to temporarily halt building new landfills or expanding dumps, saying a state with the motto "Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places" shouldn't be the nation's pay toilet. Proponents contend the landfills can bring in millions of dollars each year for cash-strapped counties, in part by accepting out-of-state trash. Plus, they say, those built in the last 16 years must meet federal requirements to ensure pollution doesn't spread into nearby land and watersheds. But promises of money and jobs have been losing out to local opposition, and on Tuesday a state Senate panel is to consider a statewide moratorium on the state's landfill permitting process. The proposal, sponsored by five Democrats and four Republicans, would halt any potential expansion or creation of landfills until 2011. "We've got to make certain we don't become the dumping ground of the rest of the country," said Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville. "This is a very urgent matter." South Carolinians annually send more than 4 million tons of household trash to the state's 18 municipal solid waste landfills, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. Currently, permits allow the landfills to take in more than twice that amount yearly. And under regulations that favored regional dumps, and caused about 60 smaller landfills to close a decade ago, the total could hit 42 million tons of trash yearly at 19 landfills.
Regulators say that growth potential will be scaled back soon. But it enticed trash companies to propose three huge landfills: a new one in Marlboro County, an expanded landfill in Cherokee County and a new one in Williamsburg County that would replace an outdated, existing dump. Protesters call them "mega-dumps." Lawmakers, including the governor, have objected to trash from outside the state coming here. They say it comes because South Carolina is an inexpensive place to discard it. "We need to find a way to take care of our needs but not open ourselves to be the dumping ground and pay toilet," said Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter. "The reason they're coming here is it's so cheap to flush in South Carolina." Republican Gov. Mark Sanford has called for higher dumping fees. During his State of the State speech in January, he said it was wrong for other regions to ask South Carolina's rural areas "to handle garbage from places like New York and New Jersey." A 2005 industry survey shows that, on average, per-ton tipping fees in the South are less than half those charged in the Northeast, though rates are cheapest in some Southwestern and Western states. Experts say transportation costs also play a role in where companies haul trash.
South Carolina ranks ninth in importing trash, behind Virginia and Georgia in the Southeast, according to the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association, an industry group. Pennsylvania is No. 1, it says. "We realize garbage has to be put somewhere, but we don't want garbage coming from the entire United States and located in our backyard," said Belvin Sweatt, a 60-year-old retiree from Bennettsville who's led a group fighting the proposed Marlboro County dump. His group contends regulations could allow the landfill to take in more waste in three days than the county produces in a year. MRR Southern Llc, the company proposing the site, says it has no plans to accept that much, and laments a lack of support from residents. The company says it already abandoned a landfill proposal in Williamsburg County because of community opposition. "We can't do anything if the county government doesn't want us in there," said Dan Moore, project manager for the company. "We can't go in and strong-arm the community. It would make our lives miserable." The Raleigh-based company offered Marlboro County up to $2.7 million yearly in fees, plus $600,000 for a park, and a $750,000 upfront payment. But residents' opposition and a lawsuit have the company backing away.
Lee County's landfill ¿ the state's largest ¿ illustrates the dilemmas facing local officials and residents. The dump takes in about 1.5 million tons of garbage annually, 65 percent of it from the Northeast, according to the state. It also accounted for the bulk of all garbage brought to South Carolina from other states last year. Bishopville residents complain about the odor, and landfill authorities say they're working to fix it. But county officials consider the landfill a good neighbor. Through tipping fees and property taxes, the landfill accounts for 20 percent of the county's $11 million budget and provides free disposal of the 15,000 tons of household garbage collected countywide. "Financially, we would be in very tough shape without it," said county treasurer Wayne Capell. In Cherokee County, residents' worries about truck traffic, stench and the sight of a trash pile convinced county officials to turn away Texas-based Waste Management Inc. But the company hasn't given up. The company still is looking to build a new landfill to replace one in Spartanburg County that is nearing capacity. It offered the county $4 million up front plus another $2 million annually in fees, and pledged to employ at least 42 full-time workers making about $40,000 a year and bring 400 temporary jobs during construction.
"With the economy as it is, and the tax base we have, I was very much in favor," said the Rev. J.W. Sanders Sr., pastor at Bethel Baptist in Gaffney for 60 years. He said his congregants also approved. "This company's not asking for any kind of tax break. They come offering the help we need, money up front and for years to come."