County borrows to build Lower Richland sewage system

dhinshaw@thestate.comSeptember 17, 2013 

— Construction could start early in 2014 on the beginnings of a sewage system that eventually could expand to serve the entire Lower Richland area.

Tuesday, Richland County Council gave preliminary approval of $9.3 million in revenue bonds to be repaid by the 1,300 existing customers of the first phase of the distribution system. The bonds are backed by the county, so if revenues aren’t enough to repay the loan, the county would be liable for the debt.

It’s not yet known how the project will affect customers’ monthly bills.

Next week, a council committee will take up a contract with an engineering firm to design the system, utilities director Andy Metts said.

The loan would be packaged with a $2.3 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development fund and user fees to pay for the $13 million project. This would be the first of three phases, ending in a $22 million system.

A 2010 agreement between the city of Columbia and Richland County, pushed by local homebuilders, gave the county until 2015 to build the system. The city now serves about 1,000 customers in the affected area, Metts said. Once the system is completed, they would become county customers.

It took until February to arrange funding, Metts said.

“It’s past due,” said Councilman Norman Jackson, who represents part of the Lower Richland community. “To have economic development, you have to have infrastructure. This is a start.”

Metts said he would expect to break ground on the project in January or February.

“This is going to be the backbone of the system that could expand sewer (service) to most all of Lower Richland County,” Metts said.

The “backbone” would run from the intersection of U.S. 378, also known as Sumter Highway, at Lower Richland Boulevard, through the Hopkins community, then head east to the town of Eastover beyond Cabin Creek Road, he said.

The county’s sewage treatment plant is in Eastover.

Metts said the project will take over five sewage systems that have had permit issues with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

It also will provide service to McEntire Joint National Guard Base.

Metts said land around the lines won’t necessarily be primed for development by the project. That’s because the lines run through floodplain or land within McEntire’s protected air space, meaning it can’t be developed.

The county has a second, larger sewage system along the Broad River in the northwest part of the county. It serves about 10,000 households.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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