The town of Hollywood never should have tried to own and operate its own sewer system. That’s the main takeaway after a burst pipe leaked raw sewage into the Stono River for weeks in January, disrupting oyster harvesting at the peak of the season.
Maintaining a sewer system just isn’t economically feasible for a town of only about 5,000 residents. And Hollywood Town Council refused to raise rates for years, putting off necessary upgrades and fixes, according to a recent Post and Courier investigation by reporter Chloe Johnson.
Fortunately, it looks like a solution has presented itself.
Dorchester County Water and Sewer, which serves at least one Hollywood neighborhood, will help bring the sewer system into good working order.
Meanwhile, the Charleston Water System, which already handles Hollywood’s wastewater treatment, will help find grants and other funds to make costly repairs and study the possibility of taking over long-term control.
The agreement, which still needs Dorchester County Council and Charleston Water System approval, will hopefully help Hollywood shore up its sewer system and keep it running smoothly without overburdening the town’s residents.
Really, it was never Hollywood’s intention to run its own sewer system for so few residents. In the late 1980s, the town agreed to switch from septic tanks to a more robust system on the assumption that growth would follow and help the new pipes and pumps pay for themselves.
That never quite panned out on the scale town leaders expected, and Hollywood was stuck with 38 miles of pipes and 26 pump stations that would have been impractical to maintain through customers’ monthly water bills.
Charleston Water System oversaw maintenance for Hollywood until 2003, when town officials decided they could save money by doing the work in-house. That turned out to be more complicated than expected, and major repairs were neglected.
In 2006, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control put Hollywood under a consent decree for a shocking 11 sewage spills in the previous two years.
That should have been enough of a red flag to make some major changes. But things pretty much went back to normal until last February, when Charleston Water System officials noticed an unusual flow coming from Hollywood and determined that millions of gallons of sewage had been leaking for weeks.
Obviously, action must be taken to prevent a similar disaster in the future.
And it would be worth the state Legislature’s time to come up with broad guidelines for dealing with the dozens of other small sewer systems in South Carolina that have collectively registered hundreds of spills over the past several years, according to DHEC records.
Shifting operating and maintenance responsibilities to larger water companies could save residents money and protect their health and the environment. The alternative is a costly, disgusting and potentially dangerous mess.