Senators talk on water in Graniteville

Anger, vitriol and frustration were flowing at a rate the water system could only dream of Monday.

Two of South Carolina’s newest elected officials tried to deal with an old problem at a town meeting in Graniteville called to discuss the area’s rapidly deteriorating water and sewer system.

Sen. Shane Massey and Rep. Tom Young gave an update on their work to find a solution to problems, took questions and were themselves a target of frustration.

The system is owned and operated by former mill operators Avondale. Avondale representatives have said they continue to operate the system at a huge loss. To counteract this, they have proposed to the South Carolina Public Service Commission a 700 percent rise in usage fees.

“We know most of you are here for one reason,” Massey told the dozens of local citizens who were in attendance. “We know you’re here to talk about water.”

“Basically, it all needs to be replaced,” Massey said. “A complete re-do of the system. The cost – it’s got a lot of zeros behind it.” Though residents would welcome – in fact, are demanding – a new system, the logistics behind that are huge.

First, the system would have to be taken out of Avondale’s hands, something Young said they have in writing that the textile giant is willing to do. “Avondale is willing to do that,” he said. “They don’t even want to sell it; they are willing to give it to us.”

However, even with possession of the system, Massey estimated a $10 million refit is necessary.

Massey and Young went on to outline four possible funding methods -first, funding from the Department of Health and Environmental Control. Two other options are to apply for federal grant funding or to get part of the stimulus money assigned to South Carolina.

The final option clings to the outcome of the Environmental Protection Agency’s lawsuit against Avondale Mills. The two lawmakers have asked the U.S. Attorney to consider any financial settlement ordered against Avondale should, at least in part, be put toward the water system.

Many felt the company should have a duty to replace the system and should be forced to do so. Massey and Young explained that this was not possible. The first step in the process is for an engineering study, which will cost $50,000 and take six months.

Aiken Standard

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