Originally created 11/07/97

Waste site considers preselling

COLUMBIA -- Chem-Nuclear Systems Inc. needs to pre-sell 5 million cubic feet of storage space at its low-level waste landfill in Barnwell County to guarantee it can meet its financial commitment to education in South Carolina, a company official said Thursday.

When the Legislature agreed in 1995 to reopen Barnwell to the nation's waste, Chem-Nuclear promised to contribute nearly $24 million a year for college scholarships and school construction. But landfill fees are not generating as much money as projected.

"If we have to write a big check to the state (to make up the difference) ... we will not be able to continue doing that year after year," spokesman David Ebenhack said.

The House Ways and Means Committee will take a look at the state's education budget next week, said state Rep. J. Roland Smith, R-Langley.

Mr. Smith, along with other Aiken County legislators, did not know Chem-Nuclear was going to issue a statement Thursday. However, Mr. Smith said he was aware there would be a shortfall.

Mr. Ebenhack stopped short of saying Barnwell will be forced to close, but said "we become more tenuous in our position if we're not able to stabilize our revenue stream."

Under Chem-Nuclear's 20-year proposal, waste generators would sign contracts and agree to pay a set fee to reserve landfill space. The planned rate would be $237 per cubic foot; $200 would go to the state and $37 would pay fixed costs at the site. When customers delivered their waste, they would pay an additional fee, which would increase 3.25 percent per year for inflation, Mr. Ebenhack said.

Chem-Nuclear currently pays the state $235 per cubic foot of waste.

Even though the fee amount paid to the state would decrease under the landfill's prepay plan, the money set aside for education would grow because it would be held in trust earning interest, Mr. Ebenhack said.

The company has said the system could enable the landfill eventually to provide $1 billion for the special state fund for college scholarships and school construction.

With signed contracts in hand, Chem-Nuclear officials will present the proposal to lawmakers in January.

"If we don't get 5 million (cubic feet) signed up, we don't think it's doable, and we won't even try," Mr. Ebenhack said. "We believe this is a mechanism we can use to levelize the revenue stream to the state of South Carolina."

State Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, called the advance selling plan "extortion."

"It's just a continuing part of the outrage of the government selling the state out in the nuclear waste industry," he said.

However, Mr. Ebenhack said the plan would benefit everyone involved.

The state would be guaranteed money for education, waste generators would get disposal space at a set price, and Chem-Nuclear would have steady business, he said.

House Ways and Means Chairman Henry Brown, R-Hanahan, said his committee likely would be receptive to hearing from Chem-Nuclear. But he said it would be premature to comment on the plan's specifics.

South Carolina Bureau writer Chasiti Kirkland contributed to this article.


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