SC senator concerned about huge potato farm

sfretwell@thestate.comDecember 13, 2013 

Walther Potato Farm in Windsor, SC

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— Questions about a huge potato farm’s impact on the Edisto River basin are attracting the attention of a state lawmaker, who said he’s heard plenty of complaints from people who live near the massive agricultural operation in Aiken County.

Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said Friday he’s also concerned about the Walther Farms project. The project will draw potentially 9.6 billion gallons of water each year from the south fork of the Edisto River, a small stream that feeds the main river in the Lowcountry.

Many people worry that it will siphon too much water from the small river, while threatening the remote stream with polluted runoff.

“The Edisto River is a beloved resource for the people in this area and for the state,” Setzler said in a statement Friday. “We need to be sure everything is done to protect this natural resource. These water withdraw levels have me concerned about the impact on the Edisto’s ecosystem. People are passionate about this project and its impact on the environment.”

It’s unclear what opponents could do to stop the farm since state regulators already have approved a withdrawal of up to 6 billion gallons annually at one 3,700-acre site in central Aiken County. A second site that could draw more than 3 billion gallons annually is being considered for approval by the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Walther Farms, headquartered in Michigan, has about 13,000 acres of potato farms in eight states, but only recently entered South Carolina. The Palmetto State farm would be the state’s largest potato growing operation.

Company officials have been unavailable this week, but said in a recent interview with a student journalist that they will be good stewards of the environment. Walther came to South Carolina because of its good soil and welcoming attitude, one of the co-owners said.

Setzler represents parts of Lexington and Aiken counties.

Walther’s farm, near the community of Windsor, is being developed in a part of South Carolina beloved by nature enthusiasts. Extending from the state’s mid-section to the coast, the Edisto River cuts through the heart of the ACE Basin nature preserve, a 200,000-acre region of swamps, old rice plantations and deep forests.

The south fork of the Edisto, mostly in central Aiken and Orangeburg counties, and the north fork, much of it on the Aiken-Lexington county line, are narrower streams that form the main branch of the Edisto River.

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