By Stan Welch
The problem is complex, and the solutions are few. That’s the situation facing fourteen households in the Ridge Crest development, which is plagued by an outdated, decrepit waste water treatment device.
To call the leaking lagoon a waste water treatment system would be a hyperbole. The residents of the area met Tuesday night with a variety of DHEC and other agency’s representatives, but in the end the situation remains the same.
The previous owner of the lagoon died fairly recently, and his heirs, apparently knowing a headache when they see one, have refused to take ownership of the lagoon.
The lagoon needs to be repaired because it is leaking effluent into water courses downstream.
The preliminary estimate for the cost of making the needed repairs is between $50 – $60,000.
In addition, once the lagoon is repaired and once more permitted to function, a licensed operator will have to be hired in order to inspect the facility weekly and to report to DHEC.
DHEC representative David Baize explained that there are a couple of ways that the operator requirement might be handled. He said there are licensed operators who function as circuit riders, serving several small systems who can’t afford a full time operator. He also pointed out that a resident could receive training and apply for a license. The level of training needed for the lagoon would be the minimum; and since the lagoon would no longer be a discharging site, the inspection schedule would be weekly, rather than daily.
Mayor Mack Durham, who attended briefly before leaving for another meeting, said that the Town has licensed inspectors and might be able to offer some assistance. He explained that the Ridgecrest development is not contiguous to the Town, limiting the Town’s options. “We would have to run a mile of sewer line, plus put in at least one lift station. The expense would be prohibitive,” he said.
The County has offered any technical expertise they can provide, but estimates that three miles of sewer lines would be needed to reach existing lines.
Baize explained that there are basically two courses the residents can follow.
They can form a home owners association (HOA) and take ownership of the property, which Baize called “truly abandoned”. As an alternative, each resident can install their own treatment device, such as a septic tank.
The septic tank approach seems to be the most popular, but it is not as cheap as many might think. The lots in the area are seldom level and are often crisscrossed by tree roots, making it difficult to locate a tank and drain lines. Some residents stated they have had estimates of $20,000 or more to have a system installed.
Pat Walker was on hand to discuss possible funding sources from the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, a non-profit organization that helps people access federal funding projects. He explained that the residents do not meet the qualifications for most of the existing programs, which are designed to assist governmental entities.
Regardless of the federal funding mechanism that might be used, the process will be slow. The question is how long DHEC will continue to delay regulatory action to close the lagoon.
As Baize said, “I want to see you all find a solution,which is why we are meeting again tonight; but my role is as a regulator, and I have to maintain that stance. But if we (DHEC) can see that you are on a path towards a solution, it is easier for us to justify delaying any final action.”
A preliminary, unofficial poll during the meeting indicated that only five of the fourteen households favored the HOA option.