Cedar Creek residents push back against proposed wastewater discharge site

CEDAR CREEK – About a hundred residents of the northeast section of Blythewood 29016 and the southern part of Fairfield County, many of whom live along Cedar Creek, met in the Cedar Creek Community Center Sunday afternoon to discuss a wastewater treatment plant Fairfield County Council has proposed to locate on a 50-acre property on Syrup Mill and Broom Mill Roads.  The wastewater from that plant is proposed to be discharged into Cedar Creek.

Fairfield County officials, Administrator Jason Taylor, Planning Director Chris Clausen and Economic Development Director Ty Davenport fielded questions.

Fairfield County officials answer questions from Cedar Creek Community residents. | Barbara Ball

The first sore spot brought up by meeting organizers as well as some in the audience was the feeling that information about the proposed site had been kept secret by the county and not made public.

“I didn’t know about this until about a week ago.” Shawn Goff, one of the organizers, told the audience on Jan. 19. “I had no idea this is coming,” Goff said.

“You understand why we feel blindsided about this,” Cedar Creek resident Jim Young added. “I didn’t hear about it until a week ago.”

An unidentified woman spoke up to say Fairfield County residents also didn’t know about the proposed site.

The information about the site location was made public during a council committee meeting two months earlier on Nov. 11, 2019.

The Voice reported the proposed location on Syrup Mill Road in a front page story on Dec. 5, titled ‘Water Authority Moving Forward.’ The story read, in part, “At an Administrative and Finance committee meeting, also held Nov. 11, county officials said the property being targeted is located off Syrup Mill Road near Big Cedar Creek.”

“We rarely disclose these things until we’re well into the process with an economic development project,” Taylor said. “We usually give a code name [until a contract is signed].”

“We found a property, but we weren’t going to announce, ‘Hey we’re looking at property along Cedar Creek’, because if we do that, the costs will go up,” Fairfield County Economic Director Ty Davenport said. “Once we put the property under contract, it was announced at a public meeting.”

Another concern of many at the meeting was whether the wastewater that would be discharged into the creek would contaminate it.

Both Goff and the county officials disclosed that the creek is already receiving wastewater from the Ridgeway wastewater plant that is currently in violation for discharging contaminants into the creek.

Taylor said the Ridgeway plant cannot be modernized. He said if the county builds a wastewater plant, it could take on the Ridgeway discharge, effectively cleaning up the creek instead of contaminating it.

John Culbreth, with Thomas and Hutton engineering consultants, said at the Jan. 13 council meeting that the wastewater discharged from the Syrup Mill Road facility would be processed by a state-of-the-art treatment system – a membrane bioreactor (MBR) system – that would not contaminate the creek. He said it is an advanced level of treatment that would discharge water of near drinking water quality. He said that discharge is used to irrigate golf courses and crops and for other uses.

Taylor reiterated Sunday that the discharge would not pollute the creek. Asked if he would let his children swim in it, he said he would.

Goff, who lives on Cedar Creek and opposes the discharge into the creek, agreed that the MBR technology, from his research, is the best of the best.

“If you have to have one, this is the one you want,” Goff said. “I can’t tell you that it’s the devil, because it’s the most advanced wastewater treatment facility that’s available. There are no open pools. It’s all contained and it has a small footprint, about seven acres. Anyone can Google and do the research. I was trying my darndest to find some piece of bad press or something that has happened at one of these plants, and I can’t,” Goff said. “They say the creek will be cleaner than it is now.”

“Membrane technology is a very clean technology, but it is highly intensive from a maintenance standpoint,” an unidentified man from the audience said. “And you’re turning over a very complex treatment facility to who? To Fairfield County?”

The audience laughed.

Taylor said the county would manage the treatment facility. Asked if the county had anyone who had experience managing wastewater treatment plants, Taylor said it does, that he had successfully operated one in Jasper County for 13 years.

Center Creek resident David Valentine, a civil engineer, asked why the county is rushing the wastewater treatment facility through and would the county be willing to put the project on hold for a period of time so citizens could do the due diligence.

“We are open to looking at other options without question,” Taylor said. “But I will say it’s not been rushed from our side. I’ve been working on it for three years and the county’s been working on it since 1997,” he said. “We have been losing population and jobs. We need to plan for jobs and to reverse population.”

Taylor said hooking into Columbia is too costly and that Columbia would then control Fairfield’s future. “Columbia could control whether we get an industry or not by not making sewer available,” he said. “And going with Columbia would pull a whole huge amount of money out of Fairfield County and send it to Columbia to develop their infrastructure. We can build our own infrastructure in house and control it much cheaper and then keep all the revenue here.”

Retired Blythewood attorney Stuart Andrews explained to the residents their legal options to stop Fairfield County from discharging wastewater into Cedar Creek. He said it could cost millions to mount a legal campaign against the county but offered that it would be possible to slow the process down to the point of effectively dismantling the county’s efforts.

Someone in the audience suggested bringing pressure on the county by boycotting the merchants in Fairfield County.

By the end of the hour and a half meeting, many in the audience remained convinced that the system would or could, somehow, contaminate the creek and ruin their water wells.

According to South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) there is no conclusive evidence that water wells have been contaminated by treated wastewater discharges. Still, members of the audience insisted they want options for the discharged water other than Cedar Creek. Those other options, however, for one reason or another, are not a fit for the county (see ‘What Are The Options?’ below).

Longtime Cedar Creek resident Lynn Robertson is not convinced. She said that while she wishes Fairfield well in its endeavor to bring infrastructure and jobs to the county, she is not convinced that the proposed wastewater treatment plant would not contaminate Cedar Creek.

“There are some other options and I just feel like, I hope and pray that they will look at other options for this rather than dumping it in Cedar Creek,” Robertson said. “I do not want Cedar Creek to be the wastewater pipeline through Richland County to the Broad River. No matter what they say, errors can occur.”

What are the Options?

contributed by the Richland County Conservation Committee

Fairfield County is setting up a new service area to provide wastewater treatment to Winnsboro, Ridgeway, the Fairfield County Industrial megasite and for existing and future development along the 1-77 corridor inside Fairfield County.

This service area would be managed through a joint use partnership agreement (the new Joint Water Authority) and a management entity which is currently under development for the new area. This new service area would require an amendment of the existing 208 (Wastewater) Water Quality Management Plan for the area as well as a new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit which has not been applied for at this point.

More public meetings and informational sessions are being planned by the County for the proposed site.

The Site

The final site for the wastewater treatment plant has not been selected, although Fairfield County Council has approved the purchase of a certain size and price of property. The County has an option agreement on a 50-acre site on Syrup Mill Road at Broom Mill Road.

If this site is selected the new discharge point will be into Big Cedar Creek.

The plant will need approximately 7 to 10 acres, and will be designed for an initial capacity of 2 million gallons per day (mgd) and a maximum with additions of 4 mgd. Twenty-five percent of the waste to be treated at the new site is projected to come from the megasite with the rest coming from the Winnsboro and Ridgeway facilities as well as existing and future development along the 1-77 corridor.

The Winnsboro and Ridgeway treatment facilities have been in service for a very long time and are very near their flow capacities. The Winnsboro facility currently discharges to Jackson Creek, and the Ridgeway facility discharges to Big Cedar Creek upstream of where the new discharge is currently proposed. Big Cedar Creek flows from Fairfield County into Richland County and eventually into the Broad River.

The Options

Other alternatives to the proposed plant were discussed at the Jan. 15 Environmental Planning Advisory Committee (EPAC) meeting. Those options included revamping the existing Ridgeway or Winnsboro discharge, providing onsite treatment at the megasite, piping to the Broad River, or land application.

Revamping the Ridgeway site would be cost prohibitive and undesirable because of the additional piping needed to cover the new areas which would be serviced by the new site.

The Wateree is currently unable to accept more Ultimate Oxygen Demanding (UOD) substances which are present in treated effluents.

Providing onsite treatment at the megasite would also negate coverage of the new areas and again, treated effluent would end up in the Wateree after flowing through Dutchman Creek.

Piping to the Broad River would be much more expensive than the proposed new plant and would be cost prohibitive.

Land application would require an estimated 1,200 acres and would also be cost prohibitive.

Cedar Creek Option

The plant proposed on Syrup Mill Road would provide tertiary quality treatment to a re-use level discharging into Big Cedar Creek downstream of the current Ridgeway discharge. This tertiary treatment discharge would be of higher quality treated effluent than the existing Ridgeway discharge. In addition, the megasite would be required to provide pretreatment of any industrial type effluents to meet discharge standards from industrial sites before the pre-treated effluent would go to the new plant. The county officials are also working to find users in the area who could re-use the wastewater for irrigation, industrial or other purposes. A preliminary engineering report is projected to be completed for this project within 3 to 6 months.

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