Will Okatie-area ‘Trash Mountain’ owner be on the hook for $4.5 million cleanup?

The $4.5 million cleanup at the smoldering Able Contracting site is expected to be complete by the end of the year, and the question on many people’s minds is who will be on the hook for the bill.

The S.C. Department of Environmental Health and Control is now the lead agency of the burning trash pile site, and DHEC Bureau of Land and Waste Management Chief Henry Porter said the state plans to seek reimbursement from “responsible parties.”

As dump trucks haul away tons of debris — some of it still smoking in the trucks — from 472 Schinger Ave., the fires that started in the early summer continue to burn deep within the mound known by area residents as “Trash Mountain” or “Mount Trashmore.”

On Oct. 15, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency left the site of the months-long trash pile fire after declaring the Able Contracting fire a federal Superfund site in mid-August.

The state is now in charge of extinguishing the fires that released noxious fumes and an acrid odor and forced nearby residents to flee their homes, businesses to close early and brought attention from environmental groups and legislators. Porter called the transition from the EPA to DHEC “successful and seamless.”

When called Thursday, Chandler Lloyd, the owner of Able Contracting, refused to comment.

Over 58,000 tons of debris have been removed from the pile, once 45 to 56 feet tall, and trucked off to nearby landfills.

On Oct. 29, DHEC began using a combination of different dump trailers to haul the material away. Porter said the dump trailers allow contractors to haul three times the amount of debris.

A dump trailer, front, leaves Able Contracting’s Material Recovery Center on Thursday morning as workers continue to remove debris at the Jasper County facility. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, now the lead agency, is using the larger trailers in tandem with tri-axle dump trucks, background, and hope to have the site free of debris by the end of the year. Drew Martin dmartin@islandpacket.com

Porter said, although the agency doesn’t have an anticipated completion date, DHEC expects to extinguish the fires by the end of the year. This is contingent on site and weather conditions, he said.

“We are looking at, if we don’t have to remove all the debris, what would be an amount that could be left on site that would not be of concern for reigniting?” Porter said.

He said he didn’t have an estimate of how much money the state has spent so far but that it will cost $4.5 million to remove the necessary material from the site. DHEC has “authority to seek reimbursement from responsible parties” and plans to, Porter said.

Residents living near Able Contracting have complained about the smoke and smell that still lingers in the area five months after the pile started burning in early June. Porter said the smell was due to the combination of burning organic material and plastic in the pile.

The 31 neighbors who live along Schinger Avenue were evacuated from their homes for 50 days while the government agencies assessed the fire and monitored air quality.

The EPA paid to house the residents for 35 nights, costing more than $49,455. Jasper County paid for the residents’ temporary housing costs starting Aug. 2 until the EPA took over on Aug. 16.

In September, DHEC issued Able Contracting a “closure letter” that required the company to stop accepting any construction and demolition debris at 472 Schinger Ave. and “immediately begin the closure process for the facility.”

In a Sept. 18 response letter, Lloyd agreed to provide DHEC a schedule for closure of the facility once the EPA and DHEC leave the site.

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A reporter for The Island Packet covering local government and development, Kacen Bayless is a native of St. Louis, 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.