As cleanup and fire-extinguishing efforts resumed at the Able Contracting trash pile this week after Hurricane Dorian’s brush with the Lowcountry, the S.C. Department of Environmental Health and Control estimates it will cost $4.5 million to fully remove the smoldering mound of debris.
Since mid-August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DHEC have been working to extinguish the fire at the Able Contracting Material Recovery Facility near Okatie. The towering mound of debris first started smoldering — and releasing noxious fumes — in early June. Neighbors were evacuated from their homes Aug. 2 and have not returned. Environmental advocacy groups monitoring air and water quality are worried about the long-term effects of the toxins from the burning debris.
Since the EPA took responsibility for the site in August, 7,187 tons of miscellaneous debris have been removed from the site and shipped to Hickory Hill and Oakwood landfills as of Aug. 31. The EPA and DHEC were forced to suspend firefighting and cleanup efforts last week due to Hurricane Dorian, and air monitors near the site were removed. Debris removal resumed on Monday, and the monitors were reinstalled.
Although smoke was still billowing out of the pile as late as Saturday, federal officials will soon leave the site, and the state environmental agency will assume responsibility for its cleanup. State Sen. Tom Davis said he expects the EPA to hand the reins to DHEC within three weeks.
DHEC officials estimate that when the federal agency leaves, about 117,000 cubic yards of debris will remain at the site. DHEC expects to have enough money to reduce the pile to 25,185 cubic yards. According to an estimate from DHEC Director of Environmental Affairs Myra Reece, this will cost the agency $3.55 million.
Davis, who has monitored the cleanup’s progress, says the initial removal is “an emergency action to prevent imminent harm to public health and the environment.”
It will cost an additional $964,000 to remove the remaining 25,185 cubic yards of debris on the site, and DHEC could ask for that money in the FY 2020-2021 budget when the S.C. legislature reconvenes next January. The cleanup, expected to cost $4.5 million total, will take 75 to 96 work days once the EPA leaves, according to DHEC’s estimates.
Davis said he’s been working closely with Gov. Henry McMaster, Rep. Weston Newton, Rep. Bill Herbkersman, DHEC Director Rick Toomey and DHEC’s Reece to come up with a plan for the pile. “Team effort,” he said.
Davis will ask the Jasper County legislative delegation Wednesday evening to endorse three actions regarding the site’s cleanup. According to the resolution: DHEC should reduce the size of the pile to 25,185 cubic yards until the remaining money is appropriated and the entire pile can be removed; Gov. Henry McMaster should include a $4.5 million appropriation in his FY 2020-2021 budget to reimburse DHEC; S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson should pursue legal remedies to recover “all public funds expended” in fighting the fire and removing the material from Able Contracting.
Davis said legal action could be taken against Able Contracting if the company or its owner, Chandler Lloyd, are found to have violated state or federal regulations.
“I don’t want to unfairly indict Able without it having a chance to be heard,” Davis said, “but I want the U.S. attorney and the state [attorney general] to give this a hard look.”