CAYCE, SC — The new regional sewer plant in Cayce promises to help power development in Lexington County for decades.
“It gives us the ability to keep growing,” said Steve Mann, executive director of the Joint Municipal Water and Sewer Commission. “Without it, growth would be stymied.”
The $66 million project is designed to handle wastewater for 80,000 homes and businesses, more than triple its current level.
And it was built with expansion in mind when development approaches its maximum disposal capacity of 25 million gallons per day, expected in mid-century.
The plant, which debuted in October, has been 10 years in the making, amid turf battles over its design and how operating costs would be divided among Cayce’s partners — the town of Lexington and the county commission that provides service in Red Bank, Swansea and Gaston.
It is big enough to handle growth over the next 30 years in a county that recently became home to companies like an Amazon distribution center and Nephron Phamaceuticals along with expansion of long-time manufacturers like Michelin tires.
City officials are proud of what they call a state-of-the-art facility on the edge of the Congaree River with features above the minimum required.
“The water we’re sending out of here is cleaner than what’s in the river,” said Gary Hubbard, who supervises the facility.
Features at the plant blend new technology with time-honored purification methods such as sludge removal, aeration and chlorination, Hubbard said.
New steps include:
• Advanced biological treatment to remove pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
• A membrane network – billed as the largest in the nation – that eliminates other pollution.
• Automated controls allowing the 12-person staff to monitor conditions more accurately and discover problems faster.
Depending on rain, it takes a day and sometimes two for a drop of wastewater to be cleansed sufficiently for release into the river.
Wastewater from more than 600 miles of sewer lines flows into the plant daily.
About 60 percent comes from high-growth areas in the center of the county, primarily Lexington and Red Bank.
Utility bill increases, with amounts varying among partners, are paying for the project. The largest rate hike is for the 11,000 homes and businesses served by Lexington Town Hall, totaling 15 percent in stages.
The plant is the second-largest wastewater treatment facility in the Midlands, but only 40 percent the size of the one operated across the river by Columbia.
For now, the plant in Cayce handles disposal of wastewater from more than 25,000 homes and businesses for most of Lexington County south of Lake Murray and the lower Saluda River.
The new facility replaces a 40-year-old plant and smaller ones elsewhere that are outdated to continue handling the development boom experienced in the county since 1980.
County population nearly doubled in that period to more than 262,000 residents today.
The plant sits on 54 acres on the southern edge of the city surrounded by woods in an area once home to Native Americans that is slated to become part of a local history preserve.
It will be joined in early 2014 by a companion facility for disposal of septic tank waste and cooking grease.
That addition is part of a deal brokered by state environmental officials to take over that role from a commercial site near Pelion that is closing.
The collaboration required for the sewer plant promises to be “a good springboard” for more partnerships among communities that haven’t collaborated well before, Lexington Mayor Randy Halfacre said.
“At the end of the day, it’s an investment in our future,” he said. “It’s a shining example of partnership that we need to emulate on other projects.”
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.