Local Meeting Addresses Saluda River Pollution

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Nearly 300 local residents, elected officials and environmental groups oppose a proposed permit that would allow Carolina Water to continue operating without connecting to a regional wastewater system. Currently, the company sends their raw sewage straight into the Saluda River, according to an SC environmental contamination lawsuit.

The legal complaint also alleges that Carolina Water has failed to comply with a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit mandating that they connect to the Cayce wastewater treatment plant since 1994, and that the company has violated discharge limits at least 20 times in the past six years alone.

Republicans and Democrats unite to take a stand against SC water pollution

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control held a public meeting in a packed auditorium on Tuesday, August 25. Both Republican and Democratic leaders attended the event and presented a united front on the issue of public health and safety.

“This is a quality of life issue,” said state Sen. John Courson. “This is representative democracy at its best. We don’t want [the permit].” Courson said, speaking on behalf of fellow senators Nikki Setzler and Katrina Shealy and state representative Kenny Bingham.

Many people in the crowd wore stickers that said “NO.” A particularly poignant speech was given by Eli Crisan, a sixth-grader from Hand Middle School, who told DHEC officials he has suffered from eczema since swimming in the Saluda River earlier this year.

The Saluda River holds special significance for cold-water trout fishermen, whitewater rafting companies and swimmers alike. As a state-designated “scenic river,” the public expressed concern that future generations will lose enjoyment of the local water due to severe contamination.

DHEC to make a decision shortly

DHEC officials say they do not have the authority to shut down the plant, but their proposed permit contains tougher discharge limits and prohibits plant expansion – which citizens say is not nearly enough to protect the Saluda River.

“DHEC recognizes the public’s interest in this matter and understands how critical our role is in protecting South Carolina’s water quality,” said DHEC Director of Environmental Affairs Elizabeth Dieck. “We are pleased with this evening’s turnout. All public comments will be taken into consideration in the final permit decision.”

Part of the complexity for this case lies in negotiations with the town of Lexington. Mayor Steve MacDougall said the town has acted in good faith, but doesn’t want to strike a deal to take over the Carolina Water Service system that would raise sewage rates for local residents. He added that CWS “must realize they are not in a position to negotiate,” that “it’s time to get real and make this right,” as “they’ve been an offender in the area for a long time.”

SC environmental contamination lawsuit still pending

Carolina Water Service representatives did not attend the meeting or respond to journalist requests for comment, but they did file a motion requesting that the SC environmental contamination lawsuit be put on hold until after the permit decision has been made.

The lawsuit was originally filed by the Congaree Riverkeeper Organization in January of this year. The group says that Carolina Water Service was supposed to hook the aging Saluda River plant along Interstate 20 to a regional sewer system that became available in 1999, but the government has not enforced compliance.

The suit was filed under the federal Clean Water Act, which allows citizens to sue in the event of government inaction. Petitioners ask that a federal judge force Carolina Water to tie into the regional system, eliminate discharges to the Saluda River from their plant and pay a fine of up to $37,500 per day, per violation, for a total sum exceeding $13 million per year for each charge.

Need a South Carolina environmental lawyer?

South Carolina environmental contamination attorney Michael Jeffcoat is a tireless defender of victim rights and puts his passion for environmental issues to work for his clients. He has built a strong network of economic loss analysts, case investigators and medical experts who can help build a strong case for victims of environmental contamination. Contact The Jeffcoat Firm for a free case evaluation.

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