Blythewood Council jumps into wastewater wrangle

BLYTHEWOOD – Complaints about a wastewater treatment plant that Fairfield County proposes to build on property located off Broom Mill and Syrup Mill Roads has perked the ears of Blythewood Town Council members. Most of those complaints come from Richland County residents who live along Cedar Creek, Fairfield County residents who live in the Center Creek community and some Blythewood [Cobblestone] residents who live along Syrup Mill Road.

The wastewater treatment plant site would be located near the Center Creek community and the treated wastewater will be discharged into Big Cedar Creek, according to Fairfield County officials.

Although none of the residents in those two communities live under the jurisdiction of Blythewood’s town government, council convened in executive session Monday night to discuss the Fairfield wastewater treatment plan as well as the Palmetto Utilities’ rate increase. But it was not made clear why they were discussing either issue.

Mayor Brian Franklin gave the following reason for going into executive session about the two issues: “to discuss negotiations incident to proposed contractual arrangements and proposed sale or purchase of property, the receipt of legal advice where the legal advice relates to a pending, threatened or potential claim or other matters covered by the attorney-client privilege, settlement of legal claims or the position of the public agency in other adversary situations involving the assertion against the agency of a claim.”

Asked by The Voice if he could give a more clear explanation as to why council was going to discuss the Fairfield County wastewater plant in executive session, Franklin deferred to the town’s attorney, Jim Meggs.

“I’m informed that some of the council members have questions about both of these matters,” Meggs said. “The town, of course, is a customer of Palmetto Utilities and represents the community at large. So some council members wanted to see what legal entitlements we might have to intervene in the Public Service Commission or other possibilities you have and likewise the wastewater plant. Questions about the town’s ability to influence the decision making in regard to the location and other aspects of the wastewater treatment plant. So we’ll be talking briefly about the 201 and 208 plans, the Central Midlands Council of Government and the town’s ability to cause things to happen later, but…”

Meggs stopped there.

“From a legal standpoint?” The Voice asked.

“Yes. It will be a very short discussion. There is not a whole lot…if this is not a good enough explanation for you, have your lawyer call me.”

Council did not vote or comment on the issue following executive session.

Asked by The Voice to decode Meggs’ reason for the executive session, South Carolina media attorney Jay Bender said that while it was appropriate for council to enter executive session to receive legal advice regarding the wastewater treatment plant, “the problem was in stating all of the ‘boilerplate’ justification for the executive session beyond the receipt of legal advice.”

Bender represents members of the South Carolina Press Association of which The Voice is a member.

“I suspect council members wanted to hear what their options were with respect to the wastewater plant location without having to let their constituents know that the town probably has no leverage, and it would be spending money for the benefit of just a few residents if it challenged the siting of the plant,” Bender said.

He also weighed in on the possible reason for discussing the Palmetto Utilities rate increase behind closed doors.

“I’m unsure what the legal issue could be with respect to the Palmetto Utilities rate increase unless council wanted legal advice on whether to try to contest a proposed rate increase at the Public Service Commission.  If that was the direction of the discussion, it could be appropriate to receive legal advice regarding taking such a step and the likelihood of success,” Bender added.

Franklin told The Voice before the meeting that he had been approached by residents of the Cedar Creek area about annexing into the town as a way to get help in their fight against the siting of the wastewater treatment plant. Franklin said he was also concerned that the discharge from the plant might be sent into Center Creek which he said runs through areas of Blythewood.

Ty Davenport, Director of Economic Development for Fairfield County, told The Voice that Center Creek is not a consideration for discharging the wastewater.

“The water would have to flow uphill to reach Center Creek,” Davenport said. “Plus, even if it were downhill from Cedar Creek, Center Creek is not large enough to handle the flow.”

Council members did not comment as to whether or not they would further address the wastewater plant issue.