The yearslong saga between the Town of Lexington and Blue Granite Water (formerly Carolina Water Service) connected to discharges into the Saluda River from what once was the water company’s I-20 plant has come to a close.
A Lexington jury has said the Town of Lexington must pay Blue Granite $7.25 million for the I-20 plant. The town took over the plant from Blue Granite in Feb. 2018, acquiring it via condemnation. The parties had to go to court to determine what Lexington would pay the private company for the facility.
The I-20 plant was the source of controversy for a number of years, as local and regional entities worked to end Blue Granite’s discharge of treated wastewater into the lower Saluda. The plant was allowed to dump a certain amount of treated wastewater into the river. However, according to DHEC records, discharges from the plant had failed tests for fecal coliform (a bacteria that often means there’s sewage present), biochemical oxygen demand (a measure of oxygen depletion, which indicates threat to fish and other species), and “floating solids or visible foam.”
Soon after the Town of Lexington took over the plant via condemnation, it tied its customers into a regional wastewater system in Cayce, ending the discharge into the river. Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall says the town continues to operate the plant.
But the matter of what the town would pay Blue Granite for the facility had remained in limbo during the long run-up to a recent jury trial. Lawyers for each side argued their cases for nearly two weeks before the jury set the price at $7.25 million.
“We have tried for years to work with the Town [of Lexington] to connect our facility to the regional wastewater system — just as we did with the City of Columbia and our Friarsgate facility in Irmo,“ says Catherine Heigel, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Corix Regulated Utilities, Blue Granite’s parent company. “We are grateful that a jury thoughtfully reached a decision on this issue.”
The Friarsgate issue Heigel refers to was the deal Blue Granite reached with the City of Columbia earlier this year to end the discharge of treated wastewater from the company’s Friarsgate plant, near Saluda Shoals Park, into the Saluda River. In that deal, the Friarsgate plant interconnected with the City of Columbia’s system for treatment of wastewater.
Heigel, the lawyer and former state Department of Health and Environmental Control chief, had been Blue Granite’s president since 2018. However, in August she was promoted to the executive vice president and COO role in Blue Granite’s parent company. Donald Denton will now be the president of Blue Granite, and also will lead Corix operations in North Carolina and Tennessee.
According to MacDougall, at trial the Town of Lexington argued that it should pay just more than $2 million for the I-20 plant, while Blue Granite fought for more than $12 million. Ultimately the jury came in at $7.25 million.
MacDougall tells Free Times he believes the town made the right decision in taking over the I-20 plant, a move that ultimately cost millions, though the town is and will continue to make revenue from the plant.
“It is a win for our community,” the mayor says. “It’s a win for our neighbors that surround our community. It’s a win for the environment. It’s a good thing. We appreciate the time and effort that went into that, from the standpoint of the judge and the jury. They spent a lot of time listening to some really technical stuff.
“In the end, we feel really good about it. We know we were doing the right thing.”
Now attention will turn to another Blue Granite facility the Town of Lexington has made overtures about acquiring: the Watergate plant, a small facility that discharges into 14 Mile Creek, not far from Lake Murray. The plant has been in operation since 1973 and services just less than 1,000 customers.
That facility hasn’t suffered some of the high-profile pollution discharges that were previously associated with the I-20 plant and Friarsgate, but state records show it did have a 28,000-gallon sanitary sewer overflow in December 2018, brought about by rain and a pump failure, as well as a 1,450-gallon overflow on May 26 because of a “faulty section of pipe.”
In a May 17 Free Times story, Heigel insisted it was Blue Granite’s desire to connect the Watergate facility with the Town of Lexington, but that “if the town prefers to acquire the facility, rather than connect it, [Blue Granite] will not oppose that.”
MacDougall says the town still has its eye on Blue Granite’s Watergate facility. How the deal gets made remains to be seen, the mayor says.
“If we have to pay for it, we have to pay for it,” MacDougall says. “It’s what’s good for our community, and we’re willing to do that. … We’ve got a couple options there.”