Here’s what it will cost Lexington to close plant that dumped sewage into river

A jury has decided the price tag the town of Lexington will have to pay to shut a wastewater plant that once pumped improperly treated sewage into the Saluda River before the town took it over.

Lexington has been told to pay $7.25 million to the former Carolina Water Service for the condemned plant near Interstate 20.

The sewage treatment plant formerly operated by Carolina Water Service was taken over by the town of Lexington in 2018, after years of complaints about the facility.

The town of Lexington attempted to purchase the plant at the time, but the company, now known as Blue Granite Water Company, declined to sell. The plant was ultimately condemned after four decades of operation.

The town has added Blue Granite’s existing customers in the area to its existing sewer system and added a temporary connection from the plant to keep any more sewage from being released into the river.

This week’s trial in Lexington was to determine what price Lexington will pay for the site.

The town had proposed to pay up to $5.4 million for the plant, and had argued for $2.02 million at the two-week trial in Lexington, while Blue Granite had asked for $12.8 million.

“It was a hard-fought, two-week trial with a very attentive jury,” said Lexington attorney David Black. “The Town of Lexington is pleased with the jury’s service and greatly appreciates their hard work.”

On Friday, a spokesman for Blue Granite indicated the company would seek to recoup its legal fees from the town, which could add an additional $1 million to $1.5 million.

“We have tried for years to work with the Town to connect our facility to the regional waste water system — just as we did with the City of Columbia and our Friarsgate facility in Irmo,“ said Catherine Heigel, president of Blue Granite Water. “We are grateful that a jury thoughtfully reached a decision on this issue today.“

In 2017, the private water utility was fined $1.5 million by a federal court and ordered to stop discharging into the river. The fine cited Carolina Water Service for failing to tie into the regional sewer system and for violating pollution discharge limits into the lower Saluda from its plant near Interstate 20. Carolina Water was supposed to tie into a regional sewer system in the 1990s, but never did.

That ruling came as the result of a lawsuit brought by the Congaree Riverkeepers — which monitors water quality on the Saluda, Congaree and Broad rivers — after poorly treated wastewater put the Saluda off limits for swimming for about two weeks the previous summer near Saluda Shoals Park, where Carolina Water Service’s Friarsgate plant released its treated sewage.

That same month, Carolina Water Service was fined nearly $80,000 by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control for releasing poorly treated sewage into the river at Friarsgate.

Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.