A closed hazardous-waste dump near Lake Marion likely will need extra protective barriers to safeguard the 110,000-acre reservoir from industrial poisons buried in the landfill decades ago.
That was a key message relayed to legislators Wednesday from an environmental attorney who oversees management of the 279-acre site, where aging liners are a threat to fail and leak chemicals outside the dump.
The good news is that, so far, contaminants aren’t known to be escaping the site, Charleston lawyer Ben Hagood said. But Hagood said he expects South Carolina will need to spend money to make improvements at the Pinewood dump – aside from the annual expense of managing the Sumter County site.
Operating the closed landfill has cost about $4.8 million annually, which includes removing and treating polluted water that builds up inside closed burial areas. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is seeking $3.9 million from the Legislature next year to make up a shortfall.
But that isn’t the only expense associated with the landfill. Capital improvements needed to protect Lake Marion could drive up costs even further – possibly to more than $20 million, a consultant estimated last year.
“I do think there is a likelihood that there will be a need for capital expenditures in the future to better secure” the oldest section of the dump from the lake, Hagood told a House budget subcommittee during a hearing Wednesday.
Taxpayers are likely to be hit with maintenance and cleanup bills because the site’s former operator filed for bankruptcy in 2000 and did not leave enough to protect the lake from leaks. Lake Marion is South Carolina’s largest reservoir, providing drinking water to thousands of residents between Columbia and the coast. It also is a hot spot for fishermen, who are drawn there to catch big catfish, as well as for recreational boaters.
Hagood, a former assistant U.S. attorney and state representative, took over management responsibility for the former Safety Kleen landfill after the dump’s former environmental manager, Kestrel Horizons, quit following a dispute with DHEC.
As it was leaving, Kestrel said the landfill needed extra barriers to protect the lake, including a more extensive French drain system in the oldest section to block the potential spread of pollution. DHEC balked at Kestrel’s recommendations, saying it would rather continue monitoring the site to see if leaks occur before the state spends more money.
The oldest area of the landfill, just a few football fields from the lake, includes drums of what regulators suspect are leaking wastes. It is underlain with a single synthetic liner. Toxic solvents buried in that area will decompose the liner over time, said Bob Guild, a Columbia lawyer who won a legal case in 2000 that forced the landfill to close. That section contains about one-fourth of the waste buried at the site, he said.
Hagood said more study is needed before it will be known what extra work should be undertaken to safeguard the lake.
One possibility is driving a sheet pile, or metal wall, into the ground between the landfill’s oldest section and the lake, Hagood said. That could be used to block the advance of toxins toward the lake through groundwater.
Hagood also said the state could install a new cap over the top of the landfill.
The cap in the landfill’s oldest section is not stopping toxic vapors from leaking through the top, Kestrel’s Bill Stephens said last year. And chemically polluted groundwater has been found near the plastic cap above the landfill, according to Kestrel.
Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said securing the landfill is “critical” to protecting the lake. He blamed DHEC for allowing the landfill to be built near the lake in the late 1970s. He also criticized both the agency and the state Legislature for not obtaining adequate funding for maintenance and cleanup bills.
Many predicted long ago that taxpayers would be stuck with the cleanup bill, despite assurances from dump operator Laidlaw Environmental Services to the contrary. A successor company to Laidlaw, Safety Kleen, filed for bankruptcy and left South Carolina without leaving adequate funds.
“We are the ones who’ve got to deal with it,” said Smith, who chairs the budget subcommittee that met Wednesday with DHEC. “It’s unbelievable that something like this could occur.”
He said it’s frustrating the public must pay to protect the lake, but it’s the reality South Carolina is faced with. “If we don’t have the will of the Legislature behind this ... then it’s just a matter of time when this disaster is going to happen.”
Gov. Nikki Haley says the state should spend about $1.5 million next year on operation and maintenance, but DHEC says the amount needed is $3.9 million.