Kevin Fisher in 2018

Kevin Fisher, July 2018

“Could another discharge of wastewater into a Midlands body of water be eliminated?” — May 17, Free Times

Yes it could, yes it should and yes the Town of Lexington must step up now to make it happen, putting aside past conflicts with the former Carolina Water Service (now Blue Granite Water Company) in order to achieve the greater good. And do so while the opportunity is clearly at hand.

In terms of public comment and criticism during the decades-long battle over the polluted discharges from their I-20 sewage plant into the Lower Saluda, perhaps no one was tougher on Carolina Water Service than me. I said the following about the company. Repeatedly:

“CWS is a renegade (20 years of violations), rinky-dink (2,000 customers), reprobate (perfect word) polluter that must be forced to stop dumping contaminated wastewater into the beautiful Lower Saluda River.” — CityWatch, Aug. 24, 2016 (among numerous other dates).

And when CWS was in fact stopped by U.S. District Judge Margaret Seymour’s ruling in a case brought by the invaluable Congaree Riverkeeper organization, I was happy to add this:

“Following the federal court decision, it should be acknowledged that DHEC had finally gotten off its bureaucratic backside in the wake of large and loud public protests, taking steps to rein in the punk polluter. Of course, the punk polluter had been appealing the state decision, delaying any attempt to make it follow the law. But no more.”

Seymour’s decision forced Carolina Water Service to tie into the Town of Lexington’s regional wastewater treatment system, and hit the company with a richly deserved $1.5 million fine for past pollution violations.

Seeming to realize that “punk polluter” was no longer a viable business strategy, CWS set out to change its image with a new name and a new leader, both more appealing than their predecessors.

The company was relaunched as Blue Granite Water (hey, if you’re trying for a new image you might as well go all out), and Catherine Heigel, the former head of SCDHEC, was named the company’s new president (hey, if you’re trying for better relations with a state regulatory agency you might as well hire its former director).

To her credit, Heigel appears to be cooperating with local governments (including Columbia) to bring other small and often troublesome Blue Granite Water sewage treatment facilities onto the grid, so to speak, by getting them tied into major regional treatment systems.

Indeed, as Free Times recently reported, “At the end of March, Blue Granite and the City of Columbia reached an agreement that ended the discharge of treated wastewater from Blue Granite’s Friarsgate plant … holding a ceremony in which the pipe that once discharged water from Friarsgate was literally ripped out of the ground at Saluda Shoals Park.”

Further, the story quoted Columbia Assistant City Manager Clint Shealy as follows: “I can honestly say it was a very cordial and collaborative negotiation to get a contract in place … the parties negotiated in good faith.”

But apparently it’s not going so well with the Town of Lexington when it comes to connecting Blue Granite’s Watergate sewage plant into that city’s regional treatment system.

In fact, Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall was quoted as saying “They don’t take our community seriously. It’s a joke. We’re not going to put up with it anymore.”

Why the sharp difference of opinion between Columbia and Lexington on working with Blue Granite to connecting these small sewage plants? Much of it may be based on the fact that Lexington and Blue Granite are still fighting in court over the value of the I-20 sewage plant that the town ultimately condemned and must pay the company for.

While the town may feel the company is trying to rip them off, the company may feel the same is true of the town. Regardless, the final price will be established by the courts, not the arguing parties. Both sides need to let that play out, while moving on with getting the other plant online.

Accordingly, I hope Mayor MacDougall and Lexington Town Council will act wisely and promptly.

After decades of fighting the public at every turn as the old Carolina Water Service, the new Blue Granite Water Company is now ready to deal. Do it.

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

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