Dan McQueen, a long-time York County resident, Duke Energy chemist and local business owner, wants to turn horse manure into a money maker.
McQueen and his partners in a York County poop-scooping business want to collect manure from nearby horse pastures, combine it with wood chips and horse bedding, and then let nature turn it all into certified dirt.
Scoop-D-Doo, a company McQueen started last year as the county's only dog waste disposal business, hopes to launch a commercial composting facility in McConnells where they'll turn horse manure into a sellable product: "Palmetto Supreme" compost.
Why horse manure?
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"It chose us," said Wayne Searcy, vice president and secretary of the start-up company.
While looking for customers for its dog waste business , McQueen, the company's president, was asked by a horse owner if he would pick up horse manure too.
Fifty pounds of manure produced in one day for every horse will provide a lot of local "material," McQueen and Searcy said.
They won't use dog or cat manure because cats and dogs are meat eaters and their feces contain bacteria which could be harmful to adults. Officials from the state environmental agency said cat and dog manure also doesn't break down as well as manure by herbivores.
The 5-acre site is off Gin Road near Brattonsville Road, not far from the home of life-long McConnells resident and Scoop-D-Doo partner Cindy Davis, who handles the company's marketing.
The group has a fourth partner, Dennis Crocker.
About half the site will be used for 20 windrows: long piles of manure and other composting materials that begin about 12 feet high, 10 feet wide at the base and 100 feet long. Over time the height diminishes to about 7 feet, Searcy said.
Each windrow will produce about 100,000 pounds in each cycle for a net of 2 million pounds of compost. They hope to turn them three times a year in time for the spring, summer, and fall planting seasons, Searcy said.
The company hopes to sell the compost, certified by the U.S. Composting Council, to local retailers. The final product can be used in backyard gardening, farming, and flower potting to add nutrients to the soil.
The finished product
"Is it going to smell?" is the question most frequently heard when they informed neighbors of their plans.
McQueen, Davis, and Searcy maintain if done correctly, the compost won't smell except when turned, and the smell subsides quickly if "cooked" correctly.
The process of turning manure to dirt takes about six to eight weeks and involves no chemical additives.
"What's real important are the microbes that are in the compost and the moisture retention," McQueen said. The natural microbes in the manure break down the material.
"They open lines of communication between the plant and the ground," allowing the plant to absorb nutrients better, he said.
The process generates its heat. When the pile reaches about 130 degrees Fahrenheit, the piles need to be turned to reintroduce oxygen to the mix. If the pile gets too dry, water should be added.
McQueen said he learned how to make "good compost" during a brief stay with Mennonites in the Midwest. Not so good compost, as the three partners described it, has rocks in it, or the manure hasn't been fully broken down.
"Good compost," Searcy said, looks, smells and "tastes like dirt."
State environmental officials see another benefit to composting.
"Anytime there's an opportunity to remove a pollution source from getting into the waters of the state it's a positive thing," said Bill Chaplin, section manager for agricultural and dams permits with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Before a composting facility is approved, DHEC evaluates the site to ensure no waterways are nearby or will be affected . The site must have a retention pond to control the flow of runoff, officials said.
Run-in with regulators
With permission from the state's environmental agency, the partners have been developing their product on another small plot of land near Davis' home and machine shop.
The start-up business hopes to expand at its new site as soon as local and state officials approve it.
"We've found everything" in the manure "from lucky horse shoes to horse hair brushes" and ribbons, Davis said. "We're keeping it all for prosperity."
The start-up business was on its way to securing approval from the state environmental and health agency. Public notices had been posted near the site, neighboring property owners had been notified, and the state environment and health officials hadn't received any complaints, they said.
The progress hit a snag with the county. Composting operations are not allowed on agriculturally zoned property.
According to the county's rules, a composting operation of the size and scale proposed would have to operate on a property zoned industrial or urban development.
"I don't think anyone ever anticipated folks composting horse manure commercially on an agricultural property" when writing the code, said Dave Pettine, the county's acting planning and development director.
On Monday, the York County Council will consider allowing commercial composting in agricultural districts as long as the county's zoning board grants a special exception.
Councilman Curwood Chappell, who represents the 5th District and lives near the proposed site, said he supports it.
"We throw away more than some countries have, and it's time to stop that," he said.
What the group proposes has "been practiced since the beginning of time," said Chappell, a veterinarian who once owned more than 70 horses.
Scoop-D-Doo will appear before the York County Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday to request a special exception. Before then, yellow zoning signs will be put up near the property on Gin Road to notify residents of the hearing.
Video: Take a look at Scoop-D-Doo compost process