Fort Mill discusses rules for cleaner waterways

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comMay 17, 2014 

— Fort Mill and scores of similar municipalities are working to meet new stricter stormwater rules as South Carolina looks to clean up its waterways.

Last month, the Fort Mill Town Council passed a first reading to create a separate stormwater utility, which will charge a fee to fund numerous required projects including stream sampling, construction and post-construction inspections, public education projects and staff training.

The town put out a statement May 9 explaining the move, though the amount of the fee hasn’t been announced.

The council didn’t take up a second reading on the issue at its May 12 meeting as expected but did hear plenty on why the program is needed.

“It all boils down to limiting what gets into your storm drains and your creeks,” said Jill Stewart, manager of the state stormwater permitting program.

The state has about 3,600 water-monitoring sites, some with data reaching back 30 years.

There are more than 1,000 impaired waterways in South Carolina. “They’re not safe for eating fish,” Stewart said. “They’re not safe for swimming.”

Various chemicals, nutrients and compounds in public waters can test high enough to put the waterway on the impaired list. Common culprits are sewage spills, land development, animal waste and fertilizers.

Steele Creek, into which Fort Mill’s watershed dumps, is on the list.

Town, counties and even military installments of a size similar to Fort Mill came under new stormwater requirements in 2007, and a new permit took effect Jan. 1.

New requirements are more stringent than those previously covered with general funds.

“One of our first requirements is to monitor the stormwater entering Steele Creek,” said Fort Mill Town Manager Dennis Pieper. “We must send personnel to sample the creek both periodically and after a major rainfall event.”

Stewart said the state’s goal is to work with those seeking permits to get compliance, but there is the possibility of fines. In 2003, the state assessed a penalty for Richland County at $830,549. The state can fine up to $10,000 per day, per violation.

“This is not an optional program,” Stewart said. “It’s a mandatory program.”

Councilwoman Guynn Savage thanked Stewart at the May 12 meeting for detailing why the program and associated fee are needed. The council and staff have expressed concern that residents might not understand a new fee when it arrives.

“For the common resident like myself,” Savage said, “it can be hard to connect the dots.”

According to Fort Mill, there are 32 municipalities in South Carolina using a stormwater fee system, including Tega Cay, Rock Hill and Columbia.

Pieper said residents can create rain gardens or rain barrels to control stormwater on their property, with credits toward the fee available.

“There will be a credit on the stormwater fee for anyone who demonstrates that they have effectively controlled stormwater on their property,” he said.

Stewart said involving the public is a main goal of the stormwater program. Educating people on what creates impaired waterways, she said, can help prevent them.

“Stormwater drains don’t go to a wastewater treatment plant,” she said. “They go to creeks. That’s a shock to a lot of people.”

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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