Fort Mill Times

Congressman takes aim at Carolina Water: Why Norman urges caution on tonight’s vote

U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman said he’s opposed to a rate hike for Carolina Water Service and urges caution to York County as it considers a franchise agreement with the utility.
U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman said he’s opposed to a rate hike for Carolina Water Service and urges caution to York County as it considers a franchise agreement with the utility. Herald file photo

U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman’s opposition to Carolina Water Service isn’t new. But his legislative address is, and he’s using it to put pressure on two major decisions he doesn’t want to see made in the utility’s favor.

The congressman recently sent letters to the chairman of the South Carolina Public Service Commission asking the group to deny a proposed rate increase, as well as to the state drinking water protection division director inquiring about violations and fines. He also wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator asking about compliance requirements and the state Office of Regulatory Staff calling for audited financial statements.

Not to mention the letter Norman sent Bill Shanahan, York County manager, urging caution before the county enters another 25-year franchise service agreement with Carolina Water. That decision is on York County Council’s agenda tonight.

“I urge you and the other council members to carefully consider the consequences of executing a long-term agreement with a company that has routinely ignored customer complaints and has been granted systematic rate increases from the public service commission that have been totally unwarranted and undeserved,” Norman wrote.

Norman’s history with Carolina Water is a long one. He has been a vocal critic at rate increase hearings in the Lake Wylie and Rock Hill areas dating back to his time serving in the South Carolina Legislature. Norman testified several times, asking state regulators not to increase rates, citing what he descibed as poor water quality, customer support and already high rates. The latest letter to the public service commission mentions 7 percent increases in 2013 and 2015.

Norman testified against both.

In the summer of 2016, Norman gathered Lake Wylie leaders, county officials and then Tega Cay Mayor George Sheppard at a public meeting in Lake Wylie. Norman asked the roughly 100 residents there that night to document any problems they had with the utility. He asked Sheppard, whose city purchased Carolina Water’s sister company Tega Cay Water Service following a rash of wastewater spills and a citizen outcry, for advice on how the county could do something similar for Lake Wylie.

Norman hoped to use the franchise agreement expiration early last year — twice extended by six months, it now runs through Feb. 17 — as a way to rid Lake Wylie of the utility. He asked for residents’ help “to make it as miserable for them as we can.”

In his recent letter to Shanahan, Norman offered concern about wastewater spills into Lake Wylie, past fines from the health department and excessive lead levels in the Foxwood, Cedarwood and River Hills areas. He called for state and federal environmental agencies to “become involved” with making sure the utility is complying with regulations “at every level.”

Norman asked that “all legal safeguards be exhausted and researched” by utility industry experts before another long-term agreement is signed. If one is, he called for provisions that would contractually “trigger an automatic replacement” of the utility based on pricing.

The contract impacts Carolina Water customers in the Lake Wylie area. The statewide rate increase, which varies but applies to water and sewer customers at roughly 15 to 30 percent, involves all of the more than 9,700 Carolina Water customers in York County, including a slice of Fort Mill.

Norman asked the Public Service Commission chairman to deny the increase, to have an outside firm audit the utility, confirm its compliance with the lead and copper rule of the Safe Water Drinking Act that sets standards, and review all fines and fees imposed due to violation of health department standards.

He asked the public service commission not to approve an agreement between the county and utility until the audit and other reviews are complete. Norman wrote consumers have lost trust and confidence with the utility.

“If any other option for selecting a new provider were offered, the offer would be immediately taken by an overwhelming majority,” he wrote.