Waste Management proposal meets skeptical public reaction

By Felicia Kitzmiller

Published: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 5:44 p.m.

A sense of distrust is leading many residents of the community surrounding the Palmetto Landfill to reject a proposed exchange of a transfer station for closure of the landfill.

Despite the sweltering sun, and faint scent of garbage hanging in the air, community members made their way to Poplar Springs Fire Station Tuesday for an informational drop-in session hosted by Waste Management.

A handful of employees of the waste industry titan were on hand to present the company’s proposal, answer questions and quell concerns. Still, most residents left convinced the transfer station was bad for their community.

“I think the consensus between my wife and I is we don’t want any more dumps,” said Danny Phillips, who lives in the area of Nazareth Road. “We’ve been dumped on enough.”

Spartanburg County and Waste Management have been in discussions about the company’s desire to build a transfer station at Palmetto Landfill for about a year. County officials said to allow such a station, they wanted a guaranteed date for the closure of the landfill, a truck routing plan that kept the heavy vehicles off residential streets.

Bob Peeler, manager of community and municipal relations for Waste Management, said the transfer station would be located on Innovation Way by Firestone in the old SP Recycling Center. He said the location was chosen because of its distance from residences and easy access to the highway which would prevent traveling through the community.

“There are no perfect scenarios, but we feel like this is a good deal,” he said.

If granted the permits, Waste Management would pledge to close the landfill within 18 months of final authorization for the transfer station and forfeit their right to build a replacement landfill. The proposed plan would replace Spartanburg County’s landfill revenue with a $1 per ton host fee, making it the first county in the state to receive a host fee for a transfer station, according to Peeler.

Roger Nutt, who spearheaded the discussions for Spartanburg County, said he told Waste Management they would have to sell the proposal because he would not recommend the transfer station to council without clear community support.

Nutt said responses to his public survey were running about three to two against the transfer station and the comments he heard on Tuesday were overwhelmingly opposed to the transfer station.

“There’s a lot of distrust and uncertainty. Basically what I’m hearing is we don’t want to enter into another contract with Waste Management that we don’t know when it will end,” Nutt said. “After today, as far as I’m concerned if there’s not overwhelming support going forward, it’s not going to be on my plate.”

The Palmetto Landfill has been nearing capacity for several years. Waste Management slowed the intake of garbage at the facility to a trickle to prolong the landfill’s life and maintain their right to build a replacement landfill.

Residents said the landfill’s extended life is one of the reasons they don’t trust Waste Management’s proposal.

“When we moved in, we were promised the landfill would close in five years,” Phillips said. “I’m afraid it’s not the end of expansion … Who’s to say in four years they won’t want something else?”

The landfill is permitted to accept 1.2 million tons of trash annually, but in 2012 only took in 291,086 tons, according to Department of Health and Environmental Control records. There are no mandatory minimums for a landfill’s intake, and the Palmetto Landfill’s life could be extended indefinitely.

“I don’t like it,” said Sam Moody, who lives near the landfill. “Basically it’s like we’re being strong-armed, ‘If you don’t accept this, we won’t cap the landfill.’”

Paul Ballenger grew up in the shadow of the landfill and has been fighting it since he was 6 years old.

“Literally, I was out here with flyers,” he said.

Ballenger is now a lawyer specializing in environmental justice. He said the landfill’s presence in his community shaped his life. Now, he said he opposes the transfer station for the same reason his family opposed the landfill.

“The same things that follows a landfill, follows a transfer station — dust, smell, rodents,” Ballenger said. “A landfill is a destination for trash. A transfer station is a hub for trash, so what’s the real trade?”

The transfer station would handle about 500 tons of garbage per day from Spartanburg and surrounding counties. The trash would be shipped out of Spartanburg County for final disposal at another Waste Management landfill, Peeler said.

“It makes business sense,” he said. “We listen to our customers, we listen to the community. This balances both.”

Debra Swindler said she felt Waste Management was less than transparent with the community since the landfill opened. The community won a lawsuit against Waste Management in 1998 because of the effects of the landfill, including contaminated water and overwhelming stench. There was a cash settlement. Every year Waste Management pays $0.15 per ton of garbage dumped into the landfill and the money is dispersed through the community.

Swindler said she worries about what is deposited in the landfill and the possible health risks to her and her family. If Waste Management had distributed information about the landfill annually, she said she might feel differently, but now, she doesn’t trust her neighbor.

“To me, we just want it out of our community,” Swindler said.