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The Heap

Palmettos and Piles

Article-Palmettos and Piles

sc-136-cgreetings-from-south-carolina-the-palmetto-state-posters.jpgThanks to cheap disposal costs, scant regulation and a growing abundance of landfill space, South Carolina is fast becoming a favorite repository for out-of-state trash. According to the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association, South Carolina ranks ninth in importing trash, behind Virginia and Georgia in the Southeast. Pennsylvania is No. 1. But an Associated Press report says South Carolina, with several huge new landfill projects on the horizon, is at risk of becoming the nation’s go-to dumping site.

It is no surprise that conservationists, residents and politicians are strongly against such a fate for the state, and are calling for a moratorium on all new landfill construction until a way can be found to limit trash imports (while preserving the much-needed revenue they provide).

Lee County's landfill — the state's largest — illustrates the dilemmas facing local officials and residents. The dump takes in about 1.5 million tons of garbage annually, 65 percent of it from the Northeast, according to the state. It also accounted for the bulk of all garbage brought to South Carolina from other states last year.

Bishopville residents complain about the odor, and landfill authorities say they're working to fix it. But county officials consider the landfill a good neighbor. Through tipping fees and property taxes, the landfill accounts for 20 percent of the county's $11 million budget and provides free disposal of the 15,000 tons of household garbage collected countywide.

"Financially, we would be in very tough shape without it," said county treasurer Wayne Capell.

On Tuesday, a state Senate panel will consider a statewide moratorium on landfill permitting. The bipartisan measure would halt any potential expansion or creation of landfills until 2011. Given the plight of state and local governments in the current economy, it’s only natural that they would jump at the easy revenue dangled by waste companies wanting to build or expand landfills and other states wanting to ship out their trash. Is there a way to still capitalize on this revenue while balancing the interests of residents and the environment?