Coal ash meeting planned Thursday

By Greg Oliver
Courtesy The Journal

LIBERTY — Residents upset over the possibility of coal ash being dumped in Pickens County will have an opportunity to let their voices be heard Thursday evening.

A forum titled “No Coal Ash” will take place from 6-8 p.m. in the Liberty Civic Auditorium, located at the site of the old Liberty High School at 310 W. Main St.

Local businesswoman Pree Hamilton said nearly 3,000 signatures in opposition have already been turned in to Pickens County Council, and another petition will also be on hand that evening to sign.

“We’re trying to bring more awareness to the issue,” Hamilton told The Journal this week. “I want the public to show up so we can show how united we are.”

Elected officials invited to attend and address the audience include South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, State Sen. Larry Martin and State Rep. Davey Hiott, as well as state Department of Health and Environmental Control director Catherine Heigel.

Hamilton said she is trying to get in touch with municipalities throughout Pickens County to see if they can set signs out in their communities opposing coal ash.

Late last year, the Pickens County Legislative Delegation sent a letter to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control expressing opposition to the application of a variance made in connection with an existing permit for a construction and debris landfill near Liberty. If approved, the variance would allow the permit holder to dispose of coal ash in the landfill.

The letter requested that DHEC deny the request, stating that Pickens County Council entered into an agreement with an out-of-state company to create a construction and debris landfill at the site in 2007.

But the letter also said county council “never contemplated that this company would attempt to convert the landfill for the disposal of coal ash as this toxic waste material is not produced in the county and is not a typical C and D material.”

The delegation added that the site is “much too close” to the city of Liberty and the Pickens County Industrial Park.

“We oppose Pickens County becoming a dumping ground for this out-of-state company,” it read.

Martin and Hiott have each introduced bills in their respective chambers in response to the issue. Senate Bill 1061, introduced last Thursday, would require any utility that disposes of coal ash in a South Carolina landfill to use a Class 3 landfill.

“It’s my understanding that South Carolina utilities are using Class 3 landfills, and there’s no reason why this out-of-state company can’t use a Class 3 landfill as well,” Martin said. “The legislation has one purpose — to keep the disposal of coal ash out of Pickens County, but also to keep it out of other communities.”

In his legislation, Martin included a five-year “sunset” provision that would require the Senate to go back and revisit when that time arrives.

“There’s a lot of technology when it comes to coal ash and recycling,” Martin said. “It might be easier to get through by having a sunset provision where it could be revisited.”

Martin said the bill would go to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, this week, and he hopes it will reach the Senate floor in about three weeks. While he feels the bill, if ultimately passed, will definitely keep coal ash out of Pickens and other counties throughout the state, the Senator said Pickens County Council also has some legal options it can explore.

Hiott characterized his bill as an effort to slow down the process, though he isn’t sure it will completely stop it.

“It’s the county’s problem, but it’s obviously our problem, too, as members of the delegation,” Hiott said. “We’re trying to make sure we do it the right way and do what’s best for the citizens of Pickens County and continue making the county the beautiful place it is.”

One thing is for sure — Martin said that as diverse as Pickens County is politically, the coal ash issue has united the county unlike anything he has ever seen before.

“No one wants coal ash in Pickens County, and we all need to do our respective part to keep it out,” Martin said. “But this is a good object lesson for other counties across the state in that while it may be economically advantageous to farm it (construction and debris disposal) out, you lose control over it. Once you make a contractual arrangement with someone like that, you start to lose control.” | (864) 973-6687

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