County defers action on incinerator plan

WINNSBORO—Fairfield County’s plans to replace a wood chipper with an incinerator is leaving some area residents feeling burned.

On Monday night, the Fairfield County Council voted unanimously to postpone final reading of an ordinance to rezone 11 acres of county-owned property off Old Airport Road that would allow for the installation of an incinerator.

County Administrator Jason Taylor said the incinerator option comes with less cost than the current wood chipping facility.

Fairfield resident Shirley Seibles and others spoke against replacing the chipper with an incinerator. | Michael Smith

“Some time back we had examined what we were doing out at the chipper site and determined it would be more cost effective to put an incinerator in as opposed to the chipping,” Taylor said.

The rezoning vote is now tentatively scheduled for July 8.

Councilman Moses Bell requested the postponement so council members could tour a Richland County facility that utilizes a much larger, but otherwise similar incinerator.

Bell said he also wanted residents to have an opportunity to tour the facility. A date for the tour hasn’t been set.

“Could we get a delegation of council to go look at the one in Richland County so we can make sure that we understand all the implications of this piece of equipment so as we vote, we’ll be inclined to know what we are voting for?” Bell asked.

The council’s vote came following spirited comments from nearby residents, all of whom opposed the incinerator.

Several residents complained that smoke from burning debris posed a health hazard. They also thought the machinery added blight that would drag down property values.

“I am so afraid for our community. I feel that our health is at risk,” said Winnsboro resident Shirley Seibles. “Burning releases ashes and hot cinders into the atmosphere. Ash settles and it settles where it may, on porches, vents, shingles, flowers, cars and trucks, children’s toys and lungs. There is a small playground next to where you want to put this incinerator.”

Seibles said the debris pile has become an eyesore.

There will be “a mountain of wooden debris across from our homes,” she said. “How long is it going to take to put a dent into this mountain? How are we allowing Fairfield County to be a dumping ground for every surrounding county?”

Others thought the incinerator posed a public safety threat.

“I’m in the business of fighting fires and we haven’t been able to control smoke yet,” said John Seibles, police chief for the Winnsboro public safety department and a resident who lives near the chipper site. “How are you going to control that smoke with an open heater? I don’t want to wake up every morning smelling fire, smelling smoke.”

Brad Caulder, the county’s public works director, sought to assure residents that the incinerator was actually safer, more strictly regulated and less costly than wood chipping.

“If I wasn’t confident of the results of the machine, it certainly wouldn’t be something I’d be pushing myself. It is a far cleaner process than the chipping now,” Caulder said. “You have carcinogens released every time that you chip. We have more pollutants in the air with the grinding. You have far fewer DHEC restrictions with the grinding than you do with the incinerator.”

The rezoning request proposed changing the zoning from RD-Rural Resource District, to I-1, Industrial District.

The wood chipper site sits on 11.32 acres the county purchased off Old Airport Road. The final sale price was unavailable, though the land has a fair market value of $780,000, according to Fairfield County property records.

Taylor said the county acquired additional property to further increase the buffer zone between residents and the incinerator.

“The machine is small, no larger than a tractor trailer,” he said.