Hopkins residents asked Richland County on Tuesday to back off its plans to build a sewerage collection system that they said many people can’t afford and don’t want.
“The values of our property are going to go up and folks can’t afford taxes as they are,” said Hopkins resident Paul Brawley, the county auditor.
About 10 people spoke, saying they hadn’t been informed of the county’s plans until last week and didn’t like some of the details they’d heard, like the half-dozen unsightly pumping stations in Hopkins that will push the waste to the county’s treatment plant in Eastover.
Councilman Kelvin Washington said later the construction schedule will slow while residents get more detailed information about the plan. “It’s our fault,” he said after the council meeting. “We need to get the facts out there.”
Still, the county seems committed to the plan, which extends from Lower Richland High School to just shy of Bluff Road, and from Hopkins southeast to Eastover. Once residents filed out of the chambers, the council approved $60,000 to pay for engineering and to buy easements along a portion of the $20 million project.
Andy Metts, the county’s utilities director, said people seemed to think the county was going to require them to hook up to the collection system. But only those with failing septic systems will be required to participate, he said. For others, it’s optional.
Still, the county does need 200 customers to continue with the project, officials said last week.
Wendy Brawley said the county needs to seek out “real citizen input” on the project, which she said would force some people to choose between paying utility bills and buying medicine.
“This sewer project you’re proposing is way too big,” added Karen Irick, an activist in efforts to extend public water to the area to serve those whose wells were contaminated by lead or gasoline. The county’s fledgling water system was completed in 2011.
But Irick said with many residents paying for health insurance now, they can’t afford the monthly sewerage bill if $37.60, not to mention the one-time fee of $4,000 required to tie on to the system.
Washington said he didn’t know how long construction might be delayed while county officials hold more informational meetings with residents. For example, he said, the county has a program to cover the tap fee for the elderly and low-income residents who qualify.
Construction was to start in the fall, with the first phase complete a year from now.
On another matter, the council agreed to take the next step toward building a multi-sport arena along Bluff Road.
On a voice vote, with Councilman Seth Rose opposed, council agreed to spend an estimated $13,000 to study an 84-acre site at Atlas and Bluff roads owned by Bible Way Church of Atlas Road. The county will get an appraisal and check for contamination and wetlands. But council declined Washington’s request for preliminary designs, costing another $30,000 to $50,000.