by: Greg Suskin Updated:
TEGA CAY, S.C. - The ongoing fight in Tega Cay over sewage spills into Lake Wylie, has reached a new stage. There's now a letter-writing campaign going on between city leaders and the utility responsible for the spills. Gov. Nikki Haley's office is the target.
In late September, Tega Cay city leaders wrote a letter to the governor voicing frustration over the sewage spills. Some were caused by heavy rains, others by equipment failure. In a few cases, thousands of gallons of sewage poured into Lake Wylie.
Tega Cay water service, owned by Utilities Inc., provides water and sewer service to about 1,700 homes, just under half of the city's population.
City leaders said the company refuses to spend the money needed to upgrade its 40-year-old system, and a lack of maintenance has allowed for dozens of sewage spills. Mayor George Sheppard wrote to state and local lawmakers, along with the governor in hopes of putting pressure on Utilities Inc.
Now, the utility has fired back, sending its own letter to the governor.
Here are portions of the letter from Utilities Inc. to Haley from CEO Lisa Sparrow:
"At the outset, let me say that we share the frustration of Mayor Sheppard, the City Council and the citizens of Tega Cay. I think it's safe to say that all parties involved including our company, the "Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS), and the Public Service Commission (PSC) are frustrated by the situation. However, TWCS has made, and continues to make, substantial efforts and expenditures of capital to end the SSOS experienced in Tega Cay.
"We have spent in excess of $2 million in just the last two years in Tega Cay, and we plan to spend more. Specifically, we have already made upgrades to our wastewater treatment plants to meet EPA limits, rebuilt numerous lift stations, performed annual maintenance in accordance with DHEC regulations, inspected more than 900 manholes, installed several hundred manhole inserts, locked manholes, and made significant upgrades to the collection system pipe. We are currently using state of the art technology released only earlier this year to identify potential blockages before they become a problem.
"The system was originally built by the community's developer over 40 years ago, not subject to today's standards. It was acquired by tcws in 1991, following the developer's bankruptcy.
"The system is not constructed in a way that allows either inspection of, or repairs to, a significant part of it. Much of the system is situated below or near buildings and trees, instead of in right-of-ways as would be the case with a system built in more recent years. A sewer system would never be allowed to be constructed in this manner today, for the reasons we are all experiencing.
"While we do not mean to suggest in any way that the recent level of SSOS is acceptable, context is important to understand the spills referred to in the city council's letter. Approximately 75 percent of the SSOS cited by the city council would not have been ordinarily reportable to DHEC (some were as small as ¼ gallon).
"The unavoidable fact is that the TCWS system will require ongoing attention in perpetuity."
However, Sheppard said Utilities Inc. knew when it bought the system that repairs and upgrades would be difficult.
"They bought it 22 years ago. We haven't moved the pipes. The pipes were in the same place they are now. So, you couldn't get to it 22 years ago, and you can't get to it now?" he said.
Sheppard described his reaction to the letter this way: "For me it's just more of the same, passing the blame," he said.
Channel 9 asked Haley's office for a response to the letter.
Her office said DHEC is working with Utilities Inc. to improve some of the infrastructure including pipes.
DHEC has fined the company in the past, but not for any spills reported this year. However, when contacted on Friday,
DHEC said the agency has issued a notice of alleged violation to Utilities Inc. for the recent spills, and just held an enforcement conference on Oct. 1.
Channel 9 hopes to get more information about that conference next week.
Tega Cay homeowner Linda Stevenson, who's been fighting to stop the leaks and spills for years, doubts whether any real progress is being made.
"I have no reason to believe they would ever do any better," she said. "They're promising us. The same things they did back in 2010, and here we are."