TEGA CAY, S.C. - A nasty problem in Tega Cay is now getting statewide attention.
For years, folks there have complained about huge sewage spills into Lake Wylie. Some of those spills have followed heavy rains, others resulted from equipment failures at the private company that handles sewage for about half of the city.
Utilities Inc. has owned and operated the water and sewer lines there for about two decades. It provides service for about 1,700 customers in mostly the older part of Tega Cay. City officials said the problem is what the private company hasn't done.
"They did not do the maintenance on it that they should have, and that's why we're running into this problem," said Tega Cay mayor George Sheppard. "We've suffered through this for a lot of years. It's gotten worse and worse and worse as time goes on."
So bad, that this year the sewage system suffered 30 leaks or spills. Some were small, others thousands of gallons. Much of it ended up in Lake Wylie.
This week mayor Sheppard sent out a letter to Tega Cay families listing possible solutions.
Some, such as sending sewage to York County or Charlotte for treatment are an automatic no-go due to lack of capacity. However, the city is looking at repairing the system, at a cost of $3 million. Another idea is to spend 2.1 million to pump sewage to rock hill,
Or, the city could build a new plant, at a cost of $4.8 million.
Sheppard said the city took another step, and sent letters to local and state lawmakers, and the governor, asking for help.
"The firepower we had as a city, we've used. We need more," he said.
Some residents told Channel 9, somebody needs to step up.
"It's horrible. You can't keep putting it into the water," said Tony Esposito. "Elected officials have to get involved now."
"We've been dealing with this for years. Years now," said Jim Harper.
Spokesman Tom Oakley with Utilities Inc. sent Channel 9 an email Thursday. The email was in answer to the question about why the utility hasn't spent the money needed to upgrade its system and keep it working properly.
Here is Oakley's response: "Simple answer. We have and we are continuing to. I have attached a partial list of some of the improvement actions we have taken in the last three years to the tune of in excess of $2 million in cost incurred. We have also just invested in a newly developed technology that uses acoustical waves to identify potential issues and is less expensive and faster than video inspections. It will detect the potential for blockages and allow us to be more proactive in preventing future system overflows. Despite some of the topographical challenges presented in Tega Cay, our initial results are encouraging."
However, state Rep. Ralph Norman, who's been involved in efforts to try to make changes, said utilities inc has done very little to solve their problems.
"Their words don't mean anything," Norman said. "They are a bottom line company. We're going to talk to the governor about finding some answers for Tega Cay."
The city of Tega Cay does not have a contract with Utilities Inc., and does not own or manage their system. It's completely private. That raises questions about what elected leaders can do to address the issues of their system.
DHEC has fined the company in the past for violations, but has not taken further action.
Sheppard said he also contacted elected leaders in Charlotte because we all share the lake, and have a stake in its future.
"This is our lake. This is the lake that surrounds our communities. This is the lake that we enjoy. We don't need sewage in the lake," he said.
Oakley said he had not seen the official report on the city's options for correcting the spillage problem, however, he said that pumping sewage to rock hill does not address the bigger issue of a sewer system that was designed 40 years ago.