July 25, 2014

DHEC wants to replace company managing Pinewood hazardous-waste landfill

State regulators are unhappy with the job being done by the company managing Pinewood’s notorious hazardous-waste site, director Catherine Templeton says.

The state's environmental department wants the management company for a closed hazardous waste dump at Lake Marion to resign, citing dissatisfaction with some of the firm's expenditures.

Kestrel Horizons was hired to monitor and oversee the dump so that toxic chemicals don't leak into groundwater and trickle into the popular reservoir southeast of Columbia near Sumter.

But Catherine Templeton, the Department of Health and Environmental Control's director, said Kestrel has spent $10 million on administrative costs during the past 12 years – and her agency is increasingly uncomfortable with the overhead expenses.

“Our relationship is to the point where we are going to have to ask for another trustee,”' Templeton said late Friday afternoon.

Templeton said her department on Friday asked Kestrel to resign, as the company has threatened, effective in October, so that a new company can take over. If Kestrel does not resign, DHEC could fire the company or ask a judge to replace the company for cause, she said.

Kestrel Horizons' executive Bill Stephens was not immediately available for comment Friday. Templeton said Stephens has been dissatisfied with DHEC's questions about the company's performance.

Kestrel Horizons, headquartered in Greenville, is headed by a team of experienced environmental professionals. Among those is Stephens, the company's principal executive, who has 36 years of environmental and engineering experience. In South Carolina, Stephens helped manage removal of hazardous waste from the infamous Aqua-Tech/Groce Labs site in the Upstate.

Templeton emphasized that Kestrel has not done anything improper, but that her agency believes the site could be managed more frugally.

"It's not anything we believe to be illegal or inappropriate, it's just that it can be done better,'' Templeton said of Kestrel. "We need more money (to manage the site), and second of all we need to spend less money.''

The landfill once was one of the South's few hazardous waste landfills but closed in 2000 after losing an extended court battle by environmentalists and the state Department of Natural Resources. The site had operated since 1978.

As part of a 2003 bankruptcy settlement with Safety Kleen, the site’s previous owner, a trust was established to oversee and manage the shuttered landfill near the community of Pinewood for a century. The settlement established an annuity that was to pay the site’s operating costs, including checking monitoring wells for signs of leaks and managing toxic water that trickled into the hazardous garbage years ago and must removed regularly.

Records released earlier this year by DHEC, however, show that the annuity has brought in only about $1.2 million annually since the 2003 settlement. Average annual operating costs have topped $5.8 million, according to records released by DHEC.

Templeton took those concerns to the Legislature earlier this year in an attempt to find additional money for the landfill. At the time, she did not express concerns about Kestrel.

But Templeton said Friday the agency has been "nitpicking'' in an attempt to save money for the site and "refusing to do business as usual with Kestrel Horizons. Just because you sent us a bill, that is not going to work. We need to know what the money went to.''

Specifically, Templeton said DHEC has questioned a $60,000 bill from Kestrel to work with a third-party consultant the agency plans to hire to examine the site, including how much waste was put there.


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