By its most base indicator, the city-run utility setup in historic Tega Cay is working.
Two years ago, the city purchased Tega Cay Water Service. Residents had complained to the city, state, company and environmentalists for years asking for relief from the company. They cited price and service issues. But mostly, particularly in the final months, the complaint involved wastewater spills.
In the 10 months leading up to the utility purchase in June 2014, state records show Tega Cay Water Service had 42 wastewater spills. Those spills accounted for 75 percent of all York County spills in that time. They made up 7 percent of all spills statewide. They released an estimated 298,970 gallons of wastewater.
The worst of it began Dec. 23, 2013. Tega Cay Water Service had six spills that day at an estimated 178,050 gallons, followed by three spills just six days later at 11,300 gallons and seven more in January at almost 56,000 gallons.
Since the city took over the utility, there have been just 14 spills — two other incidents were reported, but no wastewater overflowed — in more than 24 months.
Those spills make up 40 percent of all York County incidents the past two years. Two days saw spills at more than 3,000 gallons. Six spills on April 19, 2015, tallied more than 125,000 gallons, and two spills Dec. 23, 2015, totalled almost 65,000 gallons.
The transition hasn’t been perfect, but it has been progress.
“I believe the answer is simple,” said Tega Cay City Manager Charlie Funderburk. “It has everything to do with the staff we have been able to put into place to run and maintain the entire system. They, along with our engineers, are extremely knowledgeable and talented.”
Earlier this year, the city finalized a state loan to help with needed repairs. Three efforts with three different contractors are underway now.
“We have a contractor that is videoing and cleaning the collection system,” Funderburk said. “From there, we have been able to identify points in the system that need repair.”
Almost half of the needed repairs from that process have been made. Pipe liners or pipe replacements have been installed. Connection points where lines enter homes have been repaired.
“In a few short months we have noticed a nice reduction of inflow into the system,” Funderburk said.
Another contractor is building a pump station and force main at a problematic treatment plant. That move should take stress off other pump stations, and equalize pressure during peak demand.
“Our third contractor will very soon begin making necessary repairs to our treatment plants that will allow them to better handle the volume coming into the plants and allow our staff to better control the treatment process,” Funderburk said. “We anticipate all of this work being completed the first part of 2017.”
The city also improved communication on the ongoing repairs, through the city website and social media channels.
David O’Neal was one of many citizens who complained Tega Cay Water Service was applying for and getting rate increases, while residents weren’t seeing investment back into the system infrastructure. Now O’Neal sits on the council and sees vast improvement.
“It’s better than I’d hoped it would be,” he said. “For one, we’re not spilling sewage into the lake like we used to. Tega Cay has made significant investments to fix the problems that led to sewage spills, whereas the old owner was more concerned about profits and the bottom line.”
O’Neal said the former owner “didn’t live here, didn’t swim in the lake, didn’t drink the water” whereas the city has a much nearer interest. The city ran a separate utility system, so staff had the expertise. Buying the system was a bold move, but one leaders now say is paying more than monetary dividends.
“With the old system, every time it rained, you knew it was going to overload the system because of the seepage into the sewage system,” O’Neal said. “Now we don’t worry.”
Linda Stevenson rallied residents for years prior to the city taking ownership of Tega Cay Water Service lines. She and city leadership agree the infrastructure issues couldn’t be solved overnight, but they are on that path.
“I know that it has been slow going but the improvements are being done correctly which is a tremendous improvement over the customer service that we received from Tega Cay Water Service,” Stevenson said. “I look forward to the removal of the portable retaining pond in the near future which will be a big saving for the city.”
Stevenson believes the improvements impact residents beyond those whose pipes overflowed or who received notices to boil water in the past. The utility problems reflected upon the city, something she doesn’t see anymore.
“All of the citizens have benefited tremendously from this buyout,” Stevenson said. “I look forward to all of the improvements that should be completed soon.”
O’Neal, from resident activist to city leader, has seen both sides of big decisions in Tega Cay. He believes his city made the right call two years ago, and it shows.
“Still improving, but wow, what a difference a few years make,” he said.