Beaufort County Council made the right call, listening to residents' concerns and ruling out the chance that a trash transfer station would be built on more than 43 acres on Chechessee Road off S.C. 170.
At first blush, the site seemed ideal for a station where trash would be hauled from throughout the county, then compacted, baled and loaded onto landfill-bound trucks.
The land is centrally located to the county's primary waste generation areas. It's big enough to accommodate one large transfer facility -- which is less costly for county taxpayers than building several smaller facilities around the county. And it provided a bargaining chip for county leaders, negotiating for reduced fees with Waste Management, the company that hauls the county's trash and owns the Hickory Hill landfill where it ends up. (Bargaining chips make a difference. Waste Management lowered the county's dumping fees in 2008, saving taxpayers more than $1 million annually, because the county was investigating disposal alternatives.)
And it would meet a long-held county objective. Since 2000, Beaufort County has planned to build a transfer station somewhere in the county to meet its trash needs. The Hickory Hill landfill in Jasper County will be full in six to 13 years. A transfer station would extend the landfill's life because inbound, compacted trash would take up less space. And it would save the county money in the long term, lowering the number of pricey trips trucks must make from the county to the landfill.
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But county leaders failed to anticipate that nearby neighbors, including those on Callawassie and Spring islands, would so adamantly oppose the Chechessee Road site, raising concerns about noise, truck traffic and the impact on an environmentally sensitive tract of land. Others argued it was too close to homes and a marsh. In fact, it's adjacent to land the county purchased through the Rural and Critical Lands preservation program.
We know that no resident would welcome a trash transfer station next door, making it very difficult to site trash facilities. But enough environmental red flags have been raised about the Chechessee Road site to halt the county's plan.
The county must look elsewhere. It should also consider building several smaller transfer stations around the county, as a few County Council members have proposed. Such an approach would cost more than building one big station, but it may be the only solution residents will accept.
The county must also consider possibilities other than a transfer station. That's because a bill state legislators will take up in the new session could make it pointless for the county to build one.
The legislation would void any county rule that requires trash to be dumped at a specific landfill or trucked to a specific transfer station. Bill supporters say the intent is to create more free-market competition among trash haulers and landfills, leading to lower costs and better service for customers.
But Beaufort County leaders, who oppose the bill, point out that there is no other nearby landfill for the county to use. Thus, the bill protects Waste Management's monopoly. It would end the county's say in where trash is sent, giving Waste Management the upper hand in setting rates and negate the county decision to build a transfer station because the county would not be able to direct trash there.
We hope the bill fails as it will deny all counties an important say in their local operations and could potentially lead to higher taxes if trash is hauled long distances.
But to be safe, the county should consider options other than a new station -- perhaps an expansion of the Hickory Hill landfill, assuming Waste Management would be willing. Or maybe neighboring counties would be willing to work with Beaufort County on creating a regional solution for trash. While surrounding counties turned down a similar gesture from the county in 2007, they may feel differently now.
No long-term decision on trash will come easily. It may be one of the most difficult decisions the county grapples with for many years. But jeopardizing an environmentally sensitive piece of land and negatively impacting homeowners' way of life and property values is not the solution.