Bill calls for halt to landfill construction

COLUMBIA -- With many South Carolina neighborhoods in an uproar over nearby landfills, legislators are being asked to stop new dumps that take construction debris -- at least for now.

S.C. Rep. Dennis Moss, D-Cherokee County, wants the Legislature to impose a moratorium on new construction-and-demolition landfills until the state environmental protection agency develops tougher rules. That process could take a year or more.

The temporary ban would affect at least seven proposed landfills with permits pending before the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. But Moss figures the number is higher considering that the operators of many proposed landfills haven't submitted applications yet.

South Carolina has more than 70 active construction-and-demolition landfills, DHEC spokesman Thom Berry said.

Neighborhood activists are worried that South Carolina -- a state with a legacy of taking other states' garbage -- will become a dumping ground for construction waste across the Southeast. South Carolina already is one of the nation's leading trash importers, according to recent news reports.

Construction-and-demolition landfills bury concrete, bricks, wood and other materials from construction, demolition and land-clearing projects.

But they have become a source of concern because of truck traffic, dust and environmental issues.

The debris sometimes can contain toxins, such as lead, and critics say it's not easy for the state to ensure all the waste that goes into the landfills is poison-free. Leaks could pollute groundwater because these landfills are not lined, critics say.

"A lot of our residents are on well water," said Anderson County resident Ann Smith, whose neighborhood is fighting a construction-and-debris landfill. "It's like we're being poisoned a little bit at a time."

She drove to Columbia last week to urge lawmakers to approve the bill introduced by Moss this year.

"Put this ban in place so this (landfill) cannot go in the middle of our community," Smith said.

Moss introduced bills last year to clamp down on landfills, but the state Department of Health and Environmental Control urged him to back away so it could develop its own regulations, he told fellow lawmakers last week. He then introduced the bill to temporarily ban construction-and- debris landfills while the regulations are developed.

"I said 'I'll agree to do that if y'all will agree not to issue any permits until you change the regulations," Moss said.

Moss' bill has drawn criticism from the construction industry.

A panel of the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee adjourned debate after hearing complaints from home builders.

"The reason that these landfills are coming in is because there is demand for their services," said Julian Barton, with the Home Builders Association of South Carolina. "The regulations coming on from DHEC are a step in the right direction. These folks have years of experience."

Fights over area landfills landed in court

New construction-and-demolition landfills in York County have been a point of controversy and lawsuits for several years. Many disputed the county's solid waste plan because of vast changes made at the last minute. Included in these changes were waste projections that say the county won't need new landfills for nearly two decades.

The developers of a construction-and-demolition facility proposed on Vernsdale Road in south Rock Hill are engaged in legal action over the site. Another company has said it's moving forward with plans for a construction-and-demolition landfill in York even though it violates the county's current solid waste management plan.

-- Jason Foster, The Herald