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Sewer utility seeks county council approval for permit

Posted: April 24, 2014 5:19 p.m.
Updated: April 25, 2014 5:00 a.m.

An Elgin-based wastewater treatment utility is hoping Kershaw County Council will sign off on a permit request filed with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to allow the discharge of treated sewage into nearby Spears Creek. The matter was the only item on the agenda of a special workshop meeting held after Tuesday’s regular council meeting.

Palmetto Utilities owns and operates a treatment plant in western Kershaw County near the Richland County line. Palmetto Utilities President Stan Jones told council the proposed permit would allow his company to release up to 6 million gallons of water daily into Spears Creek, which runs near the treatment facility off Highway Church Road just north of I-20 south of Elgin. While the company currently holds a permit obtained three years ago that would allow them to discharge water into the Wateree River, it does not do so. Jones said the company has the easements necessary to install a pipeline to the river, but they have not yet done so.

Councilman Jimmy Jones, in encouraging those present for the regular meeting to stay for the workshop, said Palmetto’s discharged water, also called effluent, is actually cleaner than the water in the creek.

“The discharge is held to a higher standard and stricter limits than the effluent coming from Kershaw County’s own sewer plant in Lugoff,” Councilman Jones said.

Stan Jones said DHEC conducted a study to determine if the utility could discharge water into Spears Creek without adverse environmental consequences.

“They decided if we could meet certain limits, which we are meeting today, we could discharge our effluent into Spears Creek. Today we discharge it into what we call a rapid infiltration system that’s located in Kershaw County adjacent to the landfill you see off I-20.” he said. “They are comfortable with the limits that they’ve set and they don’t think it will have any negative impact whatsoever on Spears Creek. We’ve been testing the waters for years and there’s never been any issue with it. It’s clean water, it’s ground water.”

Councilman C.R. Miles Jr., who represents District 3 where the treatment plant is located, had several questions including one about possible flooding of Spears Creek with the additional water coming from the utility.

Stan Jones said DHEC studied Spears Creek from the Wateree River to S.C. 12 and “didn’t feel like it would have any impact.” However, he also said he would have to get an answer to Miles’ question from DHEC.

Miles also asked if the county would be held liable if an accident or mistake resulted in raw sewage going into the creek.

“Palmetto Utilities is liable for the permits from the state and from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). That’s a federal permit. We would be liable for it.” Stan Jones said. “We have spills on a smaller scale. Kershaw County has them, everybody has them. We clean them up routinely and we have a process to do that. We’ve got an emergency plan that’s filed with the state. That plant has been there since the late ’80s or early ’90s and has never been out of compliance.”

No representative from DHEC attended the meeting, despite having accepted an invitation to do so. County Administrator Vic Carpenter said he would send a list of questions from Miles and others to DHEC. Council Vice-chairman Stephen Smoak, who presided over the meeting, asked Stan Jones what percentage of Palmetto Utilities customers are in Kershaw County. Jones said Kershaw County residents make up only 5 percent of its customer base.

Councilman Jones said he had conferred with Richland County officials who said they are pleased with Stan Jones and Palmetto Utilities.

“In my eight years on the county council I have spoken with three county council members from Richland County who have praised you, praised your company, said you were the best partner they ever had. You saved the taxpayers in their community money by them partnering with you in public-private agreements. They controlled everything because they got a contract. They’ve never had any major issues,” Councilman Jones said to Stan Jones. “I believe in transparency. If there’s something not right, let’s put it out there. Let’s talk about it. People want the truth. They want the facts and that’s what I want to get out of this tonight. If there’s something not good about your system, then we need to bring it out. I appreciate what you’ve done. I think you are an expert on sewer. I don’t think we are.”

Elgin Mayor Brad Hanley also attended the workshop. While he said some of his concerns had already been addressed by members of county council, he did ask how discharge capacity for Spears Creek would be divided if and when the town of Elgin decided to build a wastewater facility.

“We’re thinking in the future. We’re not in the sewer business right now. We’ve got sewer in Elgin. We don’t anticipate any imminent expansions of that, but you never know what the future’s going to hold,” Hanley said.

Stan Jones said when a new wastewater facility applies for a permit, DHEC asks existing facilities to give up some of their allotted capacity to accommodate the new.

“Right now, they’ve given me a waste load in Spears Creek that they think is fair and economical. I agreed to it,” he said. “If the town of Elgin wanted to build a facility and discharge into Spears Creek, then you would have to show the need and DHEC would come to me and say, ‘they’ve got to have room, too.’ You share your resources.”

Hanley said Elgin can’t decide what position to take on the issue without having questions answered and more information so they can assess the impact on the town and residents.

“The opposition at this point is that we don’t know enough and we’re not sure how it’s going to affect us in the future, should we get in an economic boom and have a lot more sewer customers in our area,” Hanley said. “It’s just a little uncomfortable until we find out a little more about this process and about these answers. Until we get more answers, we are not supporting the proposal for the permit.”

Members of county council agreed questions aimed at DHEC need to be answered, and that more discussion must take place, before any action is taken. The Chronicle-Independent is also submitting a list of questions to DHEC regarding Palmetto Utility’s request.

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