PICKENS COUNTY — The Pickens County Delegation issued a statement in reference to the issue of coal ash disposal within the county. Three options are available in disposing of the issue altogether but only one would guarantee its finality.
At this point, county government is unwilling to negotiate a purchase to guarantee no coal ash is disposed of in Pickens County.
“The public needs to understand we have a political option with a bill now on the floor of the House and possibly headed to the Senate, but it’s not certain at this point if it will solve the issue. In my opinion, the only way to ensure no coal ash is to negotiate with MRR,” Rep. Neal Collins said. “At this point the county has not been willing to entertain negotiating with MRR and has not been willing to delegate us (Legislative Delegation) as mediators. As an attorney, if they were my clients, I would suggest negotiating a purchase, it’s the only sure way to get what it is the people of Pickens County want.”
The disagreement between MRR and Pickens County over the coal ash issue will be heard for the first time Feb. 19 in a judicial hearing initiated by MRR against the County of Pickens along with William Cato, Weldon Clark, Robert Ballentine, Jo Johnston, Dennis Reinert, and Bob Young as individuals and as members of the Pickens County Planning Commission.
Sen. Larry Martin isn’t sure why the county would not negotiate to purchase the land either but is confident the passage of S. 1061, a bill offered by him, could solve the problem.
“As far as I’m concerned they (MRR) can sue the state as well and we have a legal leg to stand on. With S. 1061 the classification of landfills to dispose of coal ash would be changed to a Class 3 instead of the Class 2 which is on the books now,” Martin said. “We already have a developing public policy with those handling coal ash already in this state to use only Class 3 landfills. More than that there is Supreme Court precedent concerning any retroactive application, and in this case MRR hasn’t even begun construction. The fact is, we could have this bill passed in both houses and moving on to the Governor’s office before construction could even begin.”
Rep. Davey Hiott has also placed a companion bill in the state House of Representatives, Bill 4857, which is similar to Martin’s and has passed two readings to date. It is expected to pass a third reading and be sent to the floor of the Senate by Feb. 16.
Hiott is optimistic the situation will work out.
“I think progress is being made and there are a couple of solutions on the table,” Hiott said. “Both sides are starting to realize it’s time to come to good terms to end this relationship.”
The statement issued by the Pickens County Legislative Delegation is as follows:
On January 20, the state delegation met with MRR to discuss the history of the site since MRR purchased the land from the county, future plans for the site, and possible solutions to ensure that coal ash will not be imported into Pickens County. Discussions lasted over an hour. MRR made it evident that despite potential profit margins, it is willing to sell the land back to the county. On January 25, the state delegation attempted to consult with the county council through Rep. Davey Hiott. The county council refused to hear from the state delegation. Communication to the state delegation has been that the county council will not entertain negotiations to buy the land back from MRR.
Instead, the county pulled MRR’s permit and has hired a law firm. MRR made it clear that it would protect its legal rights. MRR filed for a hearing on the matter, which will be heard on February 19.
The state delegation has filed legislation in both the House and Senate to require coal ash to be disposed of in a “Class III” landfill. While this legislation may help future counties and future sites, it is unclear whether this legislation would help Pickens County due to a number of factors: whether it is signed into law, when it is signed into law, when MRR started construction, whether a court will view it as retroactive legislation, etc.
There are a few uncertain legal solutions to the coal ash issue in Pickens County that may delay the project for a few years. However, to be clear, the only solution with 100% certainty of keeping coal ash out of Pickens County is for the county to entertain negotiations with MRR and purchase the land back from them. MRR has given the county 10-14 days to discuss negotiations. The state delegation strongly encourages the county council to do so.
A forum will be held in Liberty this Thursday at 6pm at 314 W. Main St., Liberty, SC. The state delegation plans to attend.
The issues to be decided by the judicial hearing involve the termination of MRR’s permits by the county and the standing for S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to issue a permit for the installation of an approved liner for the facility which is designed to accept and contain coal ash.
Reach D. C. Moody at 864-855-0355.