County addresses coal ash situation

By Greg Oliver
Courtesy The Journal

COUNTY — In a letter last week to local media, Pickens County Council gave its side of the coal ash dumping controversy that engulfed the county several months ago and led to a bill signed by Gov. Nikki Haley preventing it from being dumped statewide into Class 2 landfills.

The letter states that the county’s relationship with MRR dates back to 2007-08 when the two discussed a plan for MRR “to construct and operate a construction and demolition and land-clearing landfill.”

By November 2008, Pickens County and MRR had “entered into a development and host agreement for the landfill and approval was given for the Highway 93 C&D landfill” containing the special condition that “all other wastes, including animal carcasses, are prohibited from disposal in the landfill.”

While the recession of 2009-13 caused MRR not to begin construction of its new landfill and Pickens County continuing to own and operate its C&D landfill, DHEC provided extensions to MRR on time allowed to start construction. County Council stated that MRR and DHEC began conducting a series of meetings in 2014, wherein MRR proposed to add Class 3 landfill features, altering the initial design and adding a liner and leachate collection system — providing “zero notice” to county officials and the public regarding the changes.

County Council further stated in its letter that the meetings between MRR and DHEC resulted in a “confirmation” to characterize the modifications as “minor” despite the clear qualifications of these modifications as “major.” The county also stated that throughout 2014 and ‘15, MRR “lied” by continuing to inform Pickens County “that the plans for construction remained unaltered.”

In a meeting with the planning commission dated Jan. 12, 2015, Pickens County said MRR was asked whether or not it would need any liner and if there had been any changes to the plans presented in 2007. Council said MRR officials “falsely stated no liner was necessary and there were no changes to the initial plans presented in 2007.”

But by December 2015, council stated it began hearing information concerning MRR’s intentions of “depositing coal ash into the landfill” and required specific information from MRR “concerning its intentions.”

Council said MRR “refused to comply and failed to provide the requested information,” leading to the planning commission’s decision in January of this year to suspend the land use approval for the landfill.” The commission also requested MRR “to present sufficient information of their intention to strictly comply with the 2007 and 2015 land use permits.”

The Pickens County Legislative Delegation also expressed opposition to MRR’s application of a variance to DHEC, stating it was “much too close” to the city of Liberty and the Pickens County Industrial Park.

State Sen. Larry Martin, along with State Rep. Davey Hiott, both of Pickens, introduced bills designed to keep it from being dumped in Class 2 landfills statewide — passing each of their respective legislative bodies and later amended in the Senate. The bill was later signed by Gov. Haley.

Martin’s legislation also included a five-year “sunset” provision that would require the Senate to go back and revisit when the time comes.

MRR has filed a $25 million lawsuit against Pickens County, claiming the county could not prevent them from using the Class 2 landfill for coal ash.

But the state senator said he is confident in the new state law and DHEC, where permits are issued through, will prohibit coal ash from being disposed of in Pickens County.

“From the beginning, I expected them to challenge anything that was done, but I’m confident with our ability to defend it,” Martin said.