OCRM has issued a water quality certification and coastal zone consistency certification to Waste Management to perform work associated with the massive expansion of Oakridge Landfill located in Dorchester County. Particularly, Waste Management plans to fill over 14 acres of freshwater wetlands for expansion of the class 3 landfill.
The wetlands that will be filled are located upstream of and are hydrologically connected to Francis Beidler Forest and Four Holes Swamp, and provide important ecological benefits such as wildlife habitat and flood control for these important areas. Francis Beidler Forest is a 16,500+ acre forested wetland reserve and National Audubon Society wildlife sanctuary located in Four Holes Swamp. It is a nationally and internationally recognized old growth swamp forest that has received numerous distinctions.
We believe that DHEC’s approval of this wetland fill amounts to a fundamental failure to apply either the letter or spirit of applicable environmental laws. If those laws mean anything, they must require some level of balancing between commercial and environmental interests, particularly as it relates to our coastal resources. When DHEC is willing to sacrifice 14 acres of high quality wetlands adjacent to one of the most important natural areas in our state, in exchange for an unnecessary landfill expansion, any concept of balance is lost.
Beyond this general principle, we will rely on a number of specific provisions which we believe DHEC ignored. For instance, our regulations provide that “certification will be denied if the proposed activity adversely impacts special or unique habitats.” This case will of course focus on the impact to Beidler Forest and Four Holes Swamp. Furthermore, this case again implicates the fact that South Carolina simply does not need additional landfill capacity. Permitted class 3 landfill capacity almost triples existing in-state disposal. DHEC continues to permit new landfills, while at the same time refusing to let old landfills die, universally granting expansion requests. A “feasible alternative” in this case is simply no action – no expansion – as additional landfill capacity is not needed. DHEC did not consider this possibility.
Trial took place in mid-April 2015 in the Administrative Law Court over four full days with testimony extending late into the evening hours each day. A total of 11 witnesses testified over the course of the trial, including: Norm Brunswig, who served as the Manager of Beidler Forest for 41 years until his recent retirement; Dan Tufford, PhD., a Research Professor at the University of South Carolina with expertise in wetlands ecosystems, hydrology and water quality; Steven Bennett, a herpetologist with SCDNR for 31 years; Katie Zimmerman with CCL and Howard Bridgman, a CCL member who regularly recreates in the Four Holes Swamp watershed; DHEC staff responsible for issuing the decision in dispute; and the landfill company's sales representative and consultant.
The indisputable evidence is that the functions and values of the 14 acres of wetlands proposed to be filled would be lost and the fill would change the hydrology of the site resulting in impacts to the downstream system.
We remain optimistic and believe we presented solid evidence to support the existence of alternatives, including the fact that SC already has over two times the capacity needed to handle the waste generated in this state. We also believe this fact demonstrates a lack of any overwhelming public need for this landfill expansion into 14 acres of high quality wetlands connected to Four Holes Swamp and adjacent to the Francis Beidler Forest.
Each of the parties have submitted proposed orders and we are awaiting Judge Anderson's final ruling.