Pickens County Council seeks legal counsel in coal ash controversy

By: Vince Jackson, Independent Mail

Originally Published: January 31, 2016

PICKENS COUNTY — The Pickens County Council has retained the services of an environmental lawyer in the ongoing controversy involving the possible dumping of coal ash in the Liberty area.

Spartanburg attorney Gary W. Poliakoff has been retained by the county to look at the legality of dumping tons of coal ash in the landfill each year, according to county officials. Poliakoff was unavailable for comment, but his website indicates he works in the area of contamination and toxic exposure litigation.

In 2007 the Liberty area landfill was approved by the county as a construction debris facility. When the property was originally purchased by landfill operator MRR Pickens, LLC is unclear.
Recently, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control granted permission to MRR to install a synthetic landfill liner suitable for retaining coal ash. MRR could not be reached for comment to verify if the liner is now in place. A DHEC spokesperson said the liner was approved because MRR has met all requirements to allow for the upgrade.

Councilman Trey Whitehurst said MRR may have misrepresented its intensions when it got a permit from DHEC for a landfill liner. News reports have indicated that the Pickens County Council knew about the approval of the liner and coal ash being considered for the landfill.

“The council was never consulted about coal ash or the liner,” Whitehurst said. Anyone who says the council was aware of the situation is not telling the truth, he said.

In January 2015 MRR consulted with the county about continuing development of its private landfill site, which was delayed because of weak economic conditions. At that time the subject of the disposal of hazardous materials was addressed and all parties agreed hazardous materials would not be allowed in the landfill, according to county records.

Recently, MRR asked for permission to widen an access road leading to the property.

“When MRR asked for the road widening the county realized something else was going on,” Whitehurst said.

As a result of the dispute the county is working with legal counsel and is considering taking legal action against DHEC as well, according to Whitehurst.

Whitehurst said the landfill is located near a wetlands. According to industry experts, leaching of toxic materials into the water supply is a concern with coal ash disposal methods.

Other members of the Pickens County Council could not be reached for comment.

The Pickens County Council will meet in executive session regarding the lawsuit Monday at its regularly scheduled council meeting.