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Apparently, living next door to a sewage treatment plant has two downsides.
For the record, expansion is the second one.
Some Harbor View Circle residents recently asked James Island Mayor Bill Woolsey if he could help them out with that particular malady. His short answer: No.
You see, Charleston Water System is planning to expand its Plum Island sewage treatment facility into Harbor View Circle. The plant needs to grow within the next 20 years, due to the Lowcountry's booming population.
So the utility has decided the best option is to stretch out into the neighborhood its trucks already rumble through.
The water system is offering folks there $10,000 over market value for their homes, and would even rent the houses back to them until the land is needed.
Some people think that's not enough, and some just plain don't want to sell. That's understandable. It's a nice neighborhood — marsh views, close to downtown.
But truth is, CWS is offering a pretty good deal.
Especially when you consider that, if they so chose, they could just take all that land through eminent domain.
The best option
Kin Hill, the CEO at Charleston Water System, says even though the utility has the right of eminent domain, that has never been under consideration.
“We want to make this as amicable as possible,” Hill says.
That's a refreshing attitude, particularly since the utility undoubtedly has the public good on its side.
Back in 2007, the water system commissioned a study that said the Plum Island treatment plant would have to expand by 2035. That's the price of progress. The board looked into a couple of options — increasing the size of the island by filling in marshland or building a new plant elsewhere, which would cost nearly $600 million. As you might imagine, all that involves a lot of underground pipe.
Neither of those ideas was a good alternative, especially since CWS' only source of income is user fees that its customers pay. The sensible, cost-effective move was just next door.
Harbor View Circle isn't a big neighborhood; there are only about two dozen homes there. The utility bought three of them last year as part of a lawsuit settlement. But the board did not have a set policy or plan in place.
That's why it didn't buy some other homes that were on the market a couple of years back.
Then, a few months ago, one of the plant's neighbors offered to sell them his home. Word got out and two or three other folks asked for the same deal. The board decided that was the way to go, and let residents know.
And then the sewage hit the fan.
Let's make a deal
Plum Island opened in 1971, after the site was chosen over Drum Island and Fort Johnson.
At the time, we were dumping nearly 18 million gallons of raw sewage into the harbor every day. Which basically killed the harbor and most of the fish in it.
Most of those gallons came from downtown, so they built a facility close to the peninsula. At the time, it was relatively remote. There were only a few homes nearby back then.
But marshfront land is attractive — apparently even next to a sewage plant. The James Island Connector made the place even more desirable. So it goes.
The water system has bought five homes in Harbor View Circle so far and is conducting appraisals on eight others. A few more are in discussions. The bad news for a few folks is that they bought at the height of the real estate bubble, and their homes aren't worth as much as they once were.
But the utility is offering to pay what anybody else would — maybe more since some people wouldn't particularly like the location.
Hopefully the residents and water system can work out a long-term deal.
It's no fun to lose your home, but at least those people can take a $10,000 bonus and some solace.
They're probably getting a better deal than folks in the path of 526.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or read his blog at blog.postandcourier.com/brians-blog.