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Neighbors sue companies that contributed to trash pile, including porta-potty business

Jasper firefighters spend an hour to extinguish fire at SC trash debris mountain

Able Contracting's Material Recovery Center ignites as firefighters work to extinguish flames.
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Able Contracting's Material Recovery Center ignites as firefighters work to extinguish flames.

As crews remove debris from the Okatie-area federal Superfund site that’s been smoking for nearly three months and advocacy groups worry about what’s been flowing into nearby rivers for years, neighbors and nearby businesses are looking to hold Able Contracting owner Chandler Lloyd and the firms he’s done business with accountable.

A lawsuit was filed last week against the companies that allegedly deposited material at the pile, citing reports of toxins in air and water samples as detrimental.

The suit seeks class-action status against Lloyd and the five companies that were seen by neighbors as contributors to the pile of construction and demolition debris at 472 Schinger Ave. Property owners Donald and Patricia Howze filed the suit last week on behalf of “all property owners similarly situated.”

One of the companies being sued is Nature’s Calling, a waste management firm that stored portable toilets and dumpster containers on Lloyd’s property.

The Ditch

Runoff water from the 45- to 56-foot-tall pile of debris flows to a nearby ditch on the Able Contracting property. It wraps behind Riverwalk Business Park and connects to the Okatie River to the south and the New River to the north. The ditch is contaminated with dangerous toxins and bacteria.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control says the bacteria found in the ditch is most likely sewage.

After The Island Packet reported that the Environmental Protection Agency and Beaufort County found high levels of arsenic, magnesium, semi-volatile organic compounds and bacteria in the nearby ditch and a retention pond, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control stated that the bacteria was “not associated with the Able Contracting site” and was “most often associated with untreated sanitary sewage.”

However, Google Earth photographs of the property from 2018 show a fluorescent green layer of water in both the drainage ditch and the retention pond near the property.

Tonya Bonitatibus, executive director of the Savannah Riverkeeper advocacy group, said this green layer is evidence of high amounts of nutrients in the water which could be related to bacteria.

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A screenshot of a Google Earth photograph from October 2016 shows the Able Contracting property and the surrounding drainage ditch and retention pond. Green layers of bacteria and nutrients are not visible.

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A screenshot of a Google Earth photograph from March 2018 shows the Able Contracting property and the surrounding drainage ditch and retention pond. A fluorescent green layer of bacteria and nutrients is visible in the water.

Lisa Wagner, director of the Jasper County Planning and Building Services Department, said her department discovered in 2016 that Lloyd was violating the county zoning code by leasing part of his property to Nature’s Calling.

In a February 2016 meeting, the Jasper County Planning Commission agreed to allow the portable toilet business to continue operating as long as Lloyd installed a 40-foot screen around his debris pile. The screen was never installed.

“The porta-let and dumpster containers will be stored on site and are taken to construction job sites when rented out. Once the containers are filled on construction job sites, the containers are emptied at the Material Recovery Facility,” a staff report from the meeting said.

In similar photographs from 2016, the green layer of bacteria around the site is not visible.

Bonitatibus is also worried about the dangerous toxins discovered in the surrounding ditch and retention pond. She said high amounts of metals, such as cadmium, arsenic and volatile organic compounds, are soaking into the soil and flowing through the ditch. That, she said, is worse than a lot of coal ash she’s seen.

However, the EPA and DHEC say the toxins found don’t pose a risk to human health.

The Suit

The lawsuit filed last week names Waste Pro, Tropical Trash, Nature’s Calling, Republic Services and Waste Management as “waste carriers.” It states that Lloyd and Able Contracting used a previous loophole in the Solid Waste Policy and Management Act that allowed him to meet the 75 percent recovered material processing requirement by recycling mostly concrete and leaving other materials in the pile.

According to the lawsuit, Lloyd and the other defendants used the loophole to “generate enormous financial gains while simultaneously amassing an environmental time bomb.”

The Island Packet first reported on this loophole in 2017, and it has since been closed according to state law.

The waste companies “knew, or should have known that the facility was dangerous and posed a threat” to surrounding properties, according to the suit.

Last week’s lawsuit, which provides a history of the Able Contracting site, is one of four suits filed against Lloyd and Able Contracting this month.

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The Growth and Development Reporter for the Island Packet, Kacen Bayless is a native of Ballwin, Missouri. In the past, he’s worked for St. Louis Magazine, the Columbia Missourian, KBIA and the Columbia Business Times. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree with an emphasis in Investigative Reporting from the University of Missouri in 2019.
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