State suing for cleanup costs of massive trash fire on Able Contracting site

State suing for cleanup costs of massive trash fire on Able Contracting site

JASPER COUNTY, S.C. (WTOC) - It’s been nine months since the clearing of a site known as “Mount Trashmore.”

The four-acre debris pile near Ridgeland caught fire in May of last year. State and federal environmental officials took control of the site, extinguished the fire and removed the debris.

Now, there is a pending lawsuit to recoup the state’s cost, estimated at more than $5 million.

South Carolina State Senator Tom Davis pushed for the lawsuit. He says he hopes those costs can be reimbursed through legal remedies. But more than that, he said there are lessons to be learned.

Back when the debris pile caught fire, it was stacked as high as the telephone poles. Fifty feet high and more than 115,000 tons of material - the kind you would find at a home construction site.

And now, there is nothing left except for a huge bill: $5 million.

“And that’s the state dollars," said Sen. Tom Davis, R-District 46. "Those are the state dollars, and in addition to that because the first few weeks if you recall, the EPA was taking care of moving debris out of here.”

A lawsuit filed earlier this month by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says the property owner, Able Contracting, is responsible for reimbursing those costs.

It’s something State Senator Tom Davis pushed to make happen.

“Now, we need to take care of the taxpayers. We need to go ahead and see it through our grounds to recover that money. Because that’s the fair thing to do if the facts suggest it.”

The site caught fire back in May of 2019.

A previous WTOC Investigation showed Able Contracting was not in compliance with a new law that required it to operate as a solid waste facility. Records show DHEC gave the owner a grace period of several months to obtain the permit, and during that time the site caught fire.

WTOC asked Sen. Davis, who represents Jasper and Beaufort counties, if the 2018 law went far enough.

“The law is better now, but I think improvements can be made. And one example of that is right now on Hilton Head there is an application to put a transfer station near Fish Haul Creek on Hilton Head Island," he said. “It’s just not a good idea to have debris, massive amounts of debris, tons of debris stored in the Lowcountry. We have a very fragile eco-system.”

WTOC called the owner of Able Contracting and called and emailed his attorney about the state’s lawsuit, but have not heard back.

In an interview last year, owner Chandler Loyd told us the fire was caused by a lightening strike. He attempted to put it out, but wasn’t successful. He has said he offered for the DHEC to hire him as the contractor to haul away the debris on his own property, but says the state did not take him up on it.

Separately, there are two other pending lawsuits.

One that includes a class action lawsuit against not only Able Contracting, but any company that did business with Able Contracting and dumped a load at the site.

In that lawsuit, Able Contracting has denied the allegations. For the new lawsuit involving DHEC, Able Contracting still has time to file a legal response.

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