A pending deal that would enable Charleston Water System to take over Hollywood’s troubled sewer system is on the verge of collapse. That can’t be allowed to happen.
There are two hangups, according to CWS executives. Hollywood owes the federal Rural Development Agency, a unit of the Agriculture Department, about $600,000 for a loan related to its sewer system. CWS has no problem helping pay down that debt, but paying off the loan could trigger an obligation to repay some other grants awarded to Hollywood. So far, CWS lawyers have been unable to sort out that conundrum.
CWS still doesn’t have a handle on how many sewer taps the town has agreed to provide. Hollywood has 1,356 sewer customers but, over the years, the town has sold sewer rights to an unknown number of parties.
So Hollywood needs help. In fact, the entire area — Meggett and Ravenel feed into Hollywood’s system — needs better sewer service, and CWS is the only local utility capable of providing it. But formerly amicable negotiations started to unravel in June and talks broke off Sept. 30 after a contentious meeting, according to CWS.
The CWS board responded by setting a Nov. 30 deadline for Hollywood to supply detailed information about its debts and obligations to future sewer customers.
CWS CEO Kin Hill says is he hopeful the utility will be able to come to terms with the town, “but that hope is beginning to fade a little.”
Hollywood, for its part, says it signed off on everything it needed to do in August.
If the two sides can’t reach an agreement, state lawmakers Rep. Robert Brown, D-Hollywood, and Sen. Margie Bright-Matthews, D-Walterboro, should step in to help broker a deal. And, failing that, U.S. Rep Joe Cunningham and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham may need to get involved to help guide the process.
It’s crucial for the town and the environment that a deal be approved. A prolonged 2017-18 sewer leak that fouled local waters and closed a wide area to shellfish harvesting last year brought the issue to a head, with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control putting Hollywood under a consent order to correct its problems. But the town of roughly 5,200 people never has been equipped to maintain its 27 pump stations and it many miles of pipeline, even though CWS has treated its sewage since the Hollywood system was built in the mid-1980s.
CWS also has pledged to provide sewer services for the second phase of the Popular Grove development, something Dorchester County originally would have handled. The utility has promised to be sensitive to concerns about increased sewer capacity leading to unwanted development in the Hollywood-Meggett-Ravenel area. The threat of sprawl on the outer edges of the metro area should be watched closely.
Hollywood might be reluctant to hand over a significant piece of its infrastructure to a big utility – CWS would eventually be the owner under the pending deal – but residents deserve a reliable, well-maintained sewage system. The town also should consider the obvious benefits for the environment. We urge the utility and the town to come together and reach an agreement that would accomplish both important goals.