COLUMBIA, SC — The S.C. Court of Appeals has sided with state regulators whose decision paved the way for development around a scenic Richland County lily pond that once served as a natural gateway to the town of Arcadia Lakes.
An urban forest surrounded Roper Pond for years, but the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control signed off on a permit in 2008 that allowed much of the forest to be cleared and the lily-filled pond to be drained.
Today, apartments line the small lake. Water has been restored to the pond, but many of the lilies are gone. Nonetheless, the case continued to work its way through the court system as project opponents questioned the development’s water quality impact to downstream lakes.
Even if opponents had won, it’s almost certain developers would not have been required to tear down any of the apartment project. But project developers could have had to pay for environmental damages or take steps to protect waterways downstream.
In a ruling Wednesday that upholds DHEC’s decision, the Court of Appeals said the town of Arcadia Lakes and nearby property owners did not have legal standing to challenge an environmental permit for the project. The court said those challenging the permit did not prove that DHEC’s decision would cause any injury to those fighting the project.
Opponents of the project, which include residents of nearby Kaminer Station, had raised questions about whether DHEC properly reviewed the work and they also questioned whether runoff from the Roper Pond site would affect nearby lakes. Roper Pond is on Trenholm Road near the Arcadia Lakes town limit, just down the street from Decker Boulevard.
Amy Armstrong, a Pawleys Island lawyer who represented the neighbors, said she was “shocked” that the court said nearby residents didn’t have legal standing to challenge DHEC.
But Armstrong, who heads the S.C. Environmental Law Project, said the case was not only about the pond itself. It also was about how stormwater runoff from the apartments into Roper Pond would affect nearby lakes in the Gills Creek watershed, she said.
Gills Creek is one of the primary streams running through Columbia. It feeds a string of lakes on which many people live. Roper Pond, which was one of the few without development until the apartments were built, drains through a pipe that runs under Trenholm Road into Cary Lake. The lake is one of the most visible in the Gills Creek chain.
“Water quality is already impaired in that watershed, and the reason it is impaired is because of stormwater runoff,” Armstrong said. “We know when you add more (pavement) you’re going to increase sheet flow and increase stormwater. The concern certainly is that they are going to worsen water quality in Gills Creek watershed.”
Tommy Lavender, an attorney for developer Bob Mundy, said the apartment project won’t hurt water quality downstream. DHEC spokesman Mark Plowden said his agency believes the court decision was the correct one.
“Certainly, the client is very happy that the court agreed with DHEC and the (state) Administrative Law Court in upholding the permit,” Lavender said. “We don’t know of any claim that was substantiated about potential downstream water impacts.”