EPA serves notice on utility after Tega Cay sewage spills

jmarks@fortmilltimes.com adouglas@heraldonline.comFebruary 20, 2014 

— The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has joined S.C. regulators in serving notice on the Tega Cay Water Service because of repeated sewage spills into Lake Wylie.

The EPA issued a violation notice that listed “at least” 27 wastewater spills from the start of 2013 to Jan. 2, 2014, resulting in 446,350 gallons of untreated sewage being discharged into the lake. The notice says the company violated the federal Clean Water Act.

“At least 18 of the (spills) discharged untreated sewage to navigable waters of the United States,” according to a news release from the EPA.

The EPA’s action follows a Feb. 3 consent order from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control that included a $136,000 fine.

The EPA notice requires the company to follow guidelines for updating and improving its system outlined in DHEC’s order. The EPA will monitor the utility’s progress as it develops an improvement plan and repairs wastewater treatment plants and other infrastructure during the next two years. Utilities Inc. may be subject to “additional enforcement action” until the work is complete, according to the EPA.

No federal penalties are being assessed in conjunction with the order, said agency spokesperson Davina Marraccini. “However, until consistent compliance is achieved, the Tega Cay Water Services’ wastewater collection and transmission system is considered to be in violation of the Clean Water Act and may be subject to additional enforcement action, including potential penalties.”

A spokesman for Utilities Inc. said early Thursday afternoon that the company was aware of the EPA complaint but had not received a copy of it. He declined to comment until after the document had been received.

Tega Cay Mayor George Sheppard called Thursday’s announcement “encouraging.” Having the state and federal agencies in agreement is a positive for the city, he said. Sheppard said he hopes more agencies, such as the state Public Service Commission, will join efforts to stop the spills.

“It’s good that organizations are working together,” he said. “It’s going to take a concerted effort.”

Linda Stevenson, a Tega Cay resident and a member of the Tega Cay Water Citizen Advisory Council, said she hopes the EPA mandate makes a difference.

“Somebody has got to do something,” she said.

Stevenson’s group worked with the Southern Environmental Law Center on possible litigation against the utility company, but that effort ended after DHEC’s consent order essentially required what the litigation would have requested. The consent order gave the company 30 days to submit improvement and customer service plans. The order also required a complete sewer main fix within 12 months and a system-wide fix within 18 months, among other mandates.

Stevenson’s group is now focused on monitoring the required work.

Tega Cay officials are negotiating with Utilities Inc. to buy the water service. Sheppard said Thursday nothing significant has developed in the negotiations during the past week. The utility recently proposed selling its assets in Tega Cay for $7.86 million. The city is awaiting detailed financial information from a system study.

Should the city of Tega Cay buy the utility system, DHEC officials say they would work with city officials to make the improvements mandated in the state agency’s consent order.

Ongoing repairs

On Tuesday, officials with Public Service Commission and Tega Cay Water Service met in Columbia to discuss progress on the consent order’s requirements. Company officials laid out an interim plan for stopping the spills.

Lake Wylie Marine Commissioner Neil Brennan, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said he was glad to hear the company acknowledge “we’ve got a problem.”

“It appears the company is interested in fixing the problem,” Brennan said.

The marine commission is charged with looking after the welfare of the lake. The commission should discuss the sewage spill issue when it meets at 7 p.m. Monday at Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Charlotte.

John Marks •  803-831-8166 Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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