NEW ELLENTON -- Colin Covington points with some pride to a plastic fence at the bottom of hill on the edge of Three Rivers Regional Landfill.
Orange-colored water and mud from last week's rain backs up to the edge of the fence but doesn't spill over.
"The vegetation is not affected with all the rain," said Mr. Covington, projects director for Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority. "The siltation fence is holding."
The rain is a mixed blessing. It checks erosion controls. It helps to harden the clay used to line the bottom of the landfill. But as of Friday, it also has set the project back as much as six weeks.
Construction equipment sat idle as the roads through the landfill became navigable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles with experienced drivers.
"We know we've lost at least a month," Mr. Covington said. "If this rain keeps up, maybe we'll open in July."
The new landfill is called a Title D landfill, named after the federal law that regulates them. Landfill builders dug up about 1.4 million cubic yards of dirt to install the safeguards a Title D landfill requires.
The first safeguard is a 2-foot-thick impermeable clay liner, nearly finished. A high-density polyethylene plastic liner less than half an inch thick goes on top of that. Then workers will layer soil designed for drainage and filtration on top of the liners.
And this is expensive. It costs $300,000 to develop an acre. Three Rivers covers 1,400 acres, which required the Lower Savannah Council of Governments to take out a $21 million bond to build it.
The landfill is divided into 11 cells of varying sizes, the larger ones located near the middle.
The landfill is expected to take in about 200,000 tons of garbage a year for 86 years.
Landfills are becoming regionalized because of economies of scale, said Mr. Covington, the projects director.
"The history of landfilling has been that you need to have a large volume of waste to make them economically viable," he said.
Landfill fees are calculated in the following manner: Counties estimate how much waste in tons they will generate. The landfill operators figure the total cost of running the landfill for that year and divide it by the tons of trash it will receive to determine how much to charge per ton. The landfill is run at cost, Mr. Covington said.
Counties are pledged to pay in advance for the amount of solid waste they will send. Final rates haven't been issued, but most of the client counties have been told to expect a fee of about $22 a ton.
The landfill will serve Aiken, Edgefield, Barnwell, Saluda, McCormick, Calhoun, Orangeburg and Bamberg counties.
Some counties are expecting a savings. Bamberg County expects to drop its landfill fees by about $9. Edgefield County expects to be able to drop its fees from $40 to $35, said County Administrator Wayne Adams. They won't have to send the garbage to Columbia anymore, he said.
"We save money by owning our own landfill and transporting our waste a shorter distance," he said. "Everybody wins."
But not quite everybody. Aiken County is expecting a price increase. The county pledged to dump 70,000 tons and will probably pay about $22 a ton.
The county's previous landfill charged $12.50. The county expects to pay about $1.4 million annually to use the landfill, said County Administrator Bill Shepherd. And this will force the county to appropriate more funds for waste disposal, he said.
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