By Stan Welch
Interest in the issues created by the 2014 fuel spill by the Kinder Morgan company at the Belton tank farm continues to expand across the county, and among the members of the County Council, as evidenced by the events at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The spill, which involved approximately three hundred and fifty thousand gallons of gasoline, occurred when a repair patch on the company’s pipeline failed. District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson has been involved for some time in seeking to require a total cleanup of the polluted waters by the company. She has also been demanding more timely information about the cleanup from DHEC.
District Two Councilwoman Gracie Floyd, whose district encompasses a large part of Broadway Lake, has also become interested in the spill and its consequences in recent weeks. The waters impacted by the spill include several streams that eventually flow into the lake. Floyd introduced a Broadway Lake resident to the Council Tuesday night. She was one of approximately twenty five residents who attended the meeting.
Sue Schweikart is a professional engineer with special expertise in environmental issues. She also worked for DHEC for a number of years. She addressed the cleanup efforts by Kinder Morgan so far describing them as extensive but ineffective. “The steps taken simply aren’t solving the problem” said Schweikart. She urged the county to join a lawsuit filed against Kinder Morgan by the public advocacy group Upstate Forever and Savannah River Keepers.
She too decried the slowness with which the involved parties receive pertinent information. “Currently, Upstate Forever has to file a freedom of information request to get new test results and other information about the cleanup, then share that information with us. It certainly seems like the county has a right to new data without having to go through all of that.”
She conceded that the actual level of contamination is impossible to prove because there is currently no sampling or testing going on in Broadway Lake; but she reported that the levels of contamination by such elements of gasoline as benzene have been found at literally thousands times the acceptable level of 2.2 parts per billion parts of water at several locations along the creeks that flow to the lake. “What we do know is that those waters merge with the waters of the lake eventually.”
Kinder Morgan has recently submitted a plan for the remaining cleanup; a plan which calls for meeting state and federal standards, but which will not restore the contaminated waters to their state prior to the spill. Wilson, Floyd and the parties to the lawsuit are all seeking compliance with the higher standard. Floyd has been urging the Council to attach the county to the lawsuit, but no such action has been formally brought to the floor for a vote.
Wilson said that she and newly installed District Three Councilman Ray Graham had met that very morning with DHEC officials to discuss the matter of transparency and flow of information. Wilson reported that DHEC is establishing a website related to the spill, where information will be more readily available.
She spoke to Schweikart about prior environmental issues such as the Big Creek Landfill, saying that the Cheddar community is a beleaguered area that has suffered numerous environmental troubles. “In speaking to DHEC earlier today, they left me with the impression that they may be testing in this area for eight to ten years.”
Mention of the meeting with DHEC immediately evoked a response from Floyd, who asked in her most saccharine voice why she wasn’t informed of the meeting. Wilson, who has been at tenterhooks with Floyd for the last twelve years, said that she was unaware that the contamination had reached Broadway Lake and that she and Councilman Graham were the primary council members involved.
“Well, if you don’t mind Ms. Wilson, I would appreciate it if you would inform me of any future meetings.”
Graham pointed out that he would like to see some independent testing done, perhaps in cooperation with Clemson University. “I think we need to get information that we can be sure is objective. Kinder Morgan has definitely dragged their feet on this.”
There will be what Wilson described as the first in a string of public meetings on January 31 in the Cheddar community.
In a brief interview with Council Chairman Tommy Dunn he expressed interest in pursuing the issue, but said that the current focus should be on DHEC’s consideration of the cleanup plan submitted by Kinder Morgan. “We had people tonight already talking about damages and such. There is a lot of work to be done before this gets to the courts, if it ever does. As Ms. Schweickart herself said, that is always DHEC’s last resort.”
Planning director Michael Forman told The Journal on another topic that the pallet cleanup at the lower mill site in Pelzer is scheduled to begin next Monday. The cleanup should be completed within a month.