Hearing set on Beach Co. plan for private sewer plant for Kiawah River Plantation

A view of the Kiawah River from the Beach Company’s 2,000-acre Kiawah River Plantation. which the company eventually plans to develop. It first must find a way to provide sewer service to future residents.

The Beach Co. needs a green light to build a sewer plant before it can develop the 2,000-acre Kiawah River Plantation on the southern end of Johns Island, but it’s been years since such a facility has been approved.

The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, the regional planning group that must approve new wastewater treatment plants, is holding a public hearing Tuesday on the company’s proposal, said Andrea Kozlowski, the group’s deputy director. It’s the first of several required steps in the approval process.

Such applications “don’t come along very often,” Kozlowski said. “It’s the first one in many years.”

Kevin O’Neill, the Beach Company’s vice president of development, said the company has no other options but to build a private sewer facility for the upscale development. The city of Charleston and the towns of Kiawah and Seabrook all have said they cannot service the development.

“We’ve been denied every way to make it a public facility,” he said.

Groups that regulate sewage facilities often frown on smaller, privately run plants, O’Neill has said. That stems from a history of smaller plants that were turned over to homeowners’ groups and then not properly maintained.

But the Beach Company plans to hire someone to operate its plant, he said.

Kozlowski said Charleston County already has given the plant its approval, but it required the company to make available a bond in case of an emergency. She didn’t immediately know the amount of the bond.

County Council in 2013 rejected a plan that would have helped the company pay for the sewer plant, roads and other infrastructure. The tax-increment financing district would have covered the cost of property improvements with a portion of future tax revenue generated by the development.

Proponents argued that the county wouldn’t be losing money in the deal because there would be no property-tax revenue generated if the development wasn’t built. But opponents, which included many residents of the rural and suburban island, said the plan ultimately amounted to a tax-break for a developer.

O’Neill said the company has an existing development agreement for the property, which includes about 1,200 high-end homes, a hotel and golf course. He’s not sure if that plan will be modified, and no construction date has been set, he said. The company needed first to obtain sewer service.

Johns Island resident Rich Thomas said he and other island residents continue to have concerns about the project, including taxpayers being stuck with the bill if the sewer plant fails.

They also are worried about the development’s impact on environment and the Kiawah River, who will pay for water and fire services and the increased traffic on River Road.

Katie Zimmerman, director of air, water and public health at the Coastal Conservation League, said the private plant could be allowed because nobody wants to see sewer lines from the city or other places extended to that part of Johns Island. That, she said, could spur more development.

“It’s an unusual situation,” Zimmerman said. “You don’t want to infringe on a property-owner’s rights, but you also don’t want to create a domino-effect with development out there.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich