MONCKS CORNER, S.C. — A new South Carolina law strengthens the state's efforts to crack down on illegal tire piles and includes an ability to put violators behind bars.
Violators of the new rules face a $10,000 per-day fine and a prison sentence of up to one year for a first misdemeanor conviction. A second offense increases the potential penalties to $25,000 and up to two years behind bars.
"It just sends a strong message that the state of South Carolina is not going to tolerate bad actors. I feel like we've taken a strong step to protect our environment and ensure the people of South Carolina are not taken advantage of," State Rep. Sylleste Davis, R-Moncks Corner, said.
The new law, passed unanimously by both the state House and Senate, and signed by Gov. Henry McMaster, is in direct response to one particular tire recycling company.
Viva Tire Recycling L.L.C. received a permit to set up shop in Moncks Corner in 2013 with promises to recycle tires and create jobs.
When the company ultimately declared bankruptcy, an estimated 1 million tires had accumulated on the company's property by 2017.
These days, former Viva President Marty Sergi works for Cornerstone Wealth Advisory Group of North Charleston, S.C., where he lists himself as a finance, accounting, insurance and business adviser.
Between January 2011 and March 2017, however, he was president and chief financial officer at Viva, according to his LinkedIn profile.
When reached on June 2, he declined to comment about what happened at the tire recycling facility in Moncks Corner.
"I've been out of the business for five years," Mr. Sergi said. "I'd rather just not comment on that. I'm long out of the business."
What happened, from Ms. Davis' view, was that South Carolina previous rules governing tire recycling simply did not have enough teeth.
"The previous legislation really gave the waste tire recyclers too much ability to string them along," she said. " In other words, the law assumed a good-faith relationship. And when you have a bad-faith relationship, the law was not strong enough to handle those situations."
The legislator actually represents an adjacent district to where the former tire site is located. But after learning about the severity of the problem, she decided to lead the push for the new law.
Viva received payments from the state's tire recycling fund as it accepted used tires at their location, but then let tires pile up, Ms. Davis said. "It's a little bit of a perverse incentive for the tire recycler in that they get paid to accept the tire, not recycle the tire."
The new law does not impact that approach, she said, the legislation does create more severe consequences for those who game the system.
Not only did South Carolina end up being out the cash originally paid to the company, but the state then had to then fund removal and recycling of the tires once Viva walked away from the site, Ms. Davis said.
Despite the problems with Viva, South Carolina has a close relationship with tires. The state is home to 13 plants operated by Bridgestone Americas Inc., Continental Tire the Americas, Giti Tire USA Ltd., Michelin North America Inc. and Trelleborg Wheel Systems Americas, according to the state's Scrap Tire Sustainability Plan.
These locations make 110,000 tires every day, employ about 12,500 workers and have an annual economic impact of $5.2 billion, the plan states.
With such a deep interest in tire making, South Carolina created the Scrap Tire Sustainability Coalition to improve the management of end-of-life scrap tires. Members include representatives from manufacturers, retailers, processors, haulers, government and environmental groups.
Creation of the new legislation relied on input from a variety of sectors, Ms. Davis said, "to make sure we were taking into consideration all angles. Any time you make a law, it's important to make sure you get all voices at the table."
South Carolina generates an estimated 13,000 scrap tires every day.
The Viva cleanup project was verified complete in April 2019 by South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. A total of 13,500 tons of used tires were removed at a cost of $3.23 million, or $239 per ton, the state reported.