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Palmetto Utilities withdraws permit application

Posted: August 14, 2014 8:09 p.m.
Updated: August 15, 2014 6:00 a.m.

A Richland County wastewater treatment utility company has withdrawn a permit application to discharge treated sewage into a Kershaw County creek.

Palmetto Utilities had been seeking Kershaw County Council’s endorsement for the permit from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DEHC) to discharge up to 6 million gallons of wastewater a day into Spears Creek near its treatment facility off Highway Church Road just north of I-20 south of Elgin. The utility did not need council’s approval to receive the permit, but Palmetto Utilities President Stan Jones told council at its April 22 meeting he would like to have the cooperation of everyone affected.

Palmetto Utilities currently has a permit to discharge treated sewage into the Wateree River, but does not because their facility is miles away from the river and a pipeline would have to be built to carry the sewage. Spears Creek empties into the river several miles downstream in Sumter County.

Councilmen C.R. Miles Jr. presented a list of questions to Jones about the environmental impact of the discharge in April. Miles represents District 3, where the treatment plant is located. Jones was able to answer some of Miles’ concerns and others were sent to DHEC for responses.

The matter was on council’s agenda for its meeting Tuesday night, but it was removed while approving the agenda after learning Palmetto Utilities had withdrawn the application. In a phone interview Thursday, Jones said he felt the council was against the application and he didn’t see the point of fighting a losing battle.

“We just made a choice to not get in a legal fight with the county. We’re working with DHEC on some other options outside of Kershaw County,” he said. “What we would have done would improve the water quality of Spears Creek, but some people can’t grasp that idea.”

Also Tuesday, council discussed a proposed amendment to an ordinance passed last October regulating communication towers in the county.

The amendment would provide for earlier notification of neighboring property owners near where towers are planned. Kershaw County Planning and Zoning Director Carolyn Hammond said the existing ordinance provides for adjacent property owners to be notified, but only days before tower construction starts. The amendment would have residents receive notices earlier, Hammond said.

“This basically gives the property owners in the vicinity a voice before the application reaches us,” Hammond said. “When a company is looking for a cell tower location, they’ll start looking for a site probably two to three years before we actually get the application. We don’t get an application until they’ve done all the research. We don’t know until about five days before we send out letters to notify residents that a tower is even in the works.”

She said one of the things her department is proposing is that when a cell tower company is ready to send an application for a tower to the county, her office wants a company to include in its information a list of all the property owners that have what are called “legally existing inhabitable dwellings” that are in the “tower notification zone” of the proposed tower.

Hammond said the tower notification zone includes properties that are in an area the size of the tower’s height, plus 25 percent. For example, the zone for a 200-foot-tower would be 250 feet around it.

“Everybody within that tower notification zone will be sent a letter by me, not the cell tower company -- a registered letter so I know who’s getting it and I’ll know who the property owners are. They’re given 30 days after the letters go out to let me know if they object,” Hammond said.

If there are objections to a tower’s proposed location, the proposed amendment would give the tower company the option to file for a special exception permit with the Board of Zoning Appeals.

“In order to get that special exception … they have to meet special, specific criteria. It has to meet all the communication tower regulations that are outlined in the ordinance. There’s a list … they have to comply with and supply to us with the application,” Hammond said.

Councilman Jimmy Jones spoke in favor of having better notification for neighbors when the ordinance was passed last fall. Tuesday he thanked Hammond and her staff for trying to provide that.

“This is a good amendment. It gives the people a say so. We have to have technology. We have to have cell phone towers,” Jones said. “But we need to balance it out and we don’t need to step on property owners’ rights and take all their say so away.”

The amendment will be on the council’s Aug. 26 agenda for first reading.

Council also unanimously passed third and final readings on seven ordinances concerning amendments to the county’s Unified Code of Zoning and Land Development.

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