Opinion Extra

Odom: McBee officials fighting economic development

With South Carolina's economic forecast continuing to worsen, families across the state are struggling to find ways to make ends meet. This is particularly true in our rural communities, where unemployment levels are beginning to match those experienced only during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, some politicians are making a recovery less likely because they refuse to support common-sense strategies that foster community growth and development.

The fight over a proposed water treatment facility in the town of McBee is a good illustration. Located in Chesterfield County, where the unemployment rate now tops 17 percent, McBee desperately needs additional infrastructure in order to attract new businesses and residents. Yet a few local politicians are attempting to block the effort by Alligator Rural Water and Sewer Co. to expand the area's capacity for clean water and safe sewage treatment. Sadly, their opposition is counter to the economic interest of the McBee-area residents and is based entirely on fear and misinformation. Here are the facts:

Alligator Rural Water applied for and was granted a permit by DHEC to dispose of treated wastewater in a modern above-ground rapid infiltration facility and not in a peach orchard as recently reported in The State. The project will utilize technology that offers a sustainable, environmentally sound solution that other communities across the country have found beneficial. The proposed facility conforms to the Clean Water Act and recommendations of federal health officials, the EPA and DHEC to reduce wastewater flowing into local rivers and streams.

For more than a year, Alligator Rural Water has worked diligently with DHEC, local officials and area residents to answer questions and address any concerns about the project. Multiple public hearings offered residents the opportunity to learn the facts about the facility. DHEC, the EPA and a host of experts have deemed the project to be a safe and effective wastewater treatment solution. Many residents see the opportunity the facility represents, and more than 1,000 have signed a petition supporting it.

Despite the claims of some opponents, the facility would not treat wastewater from other states. Alligator Rural Water has never proposed this and will not do so in the future. Alligator has been a good steward of the region's natural resources for more than 20 years. We have engaged in honest dialogue about the project and are committed to working with area residents as partners.

It is disconcerting that McBee's mayor and council members continue to denounce the project. It has even been recently acknowledged to The State that additional water treatment capacity would be economically beneficial to the region. So why is our plan opposed? Apparently because they think they know better than scientists, engineers, business leaders and many of the citizens they supposedly represent. Now the town has retained a former DHEC commissioner to further spread fear in our community.

Alligator Rural Water has spent to date more than $1 million to filter out pesticide contamination that has entered into the groundwater. As a result of these harmful chemicals entering the groundwater supply, we have had to shut down numerous wells, including the well in McBee. Meanwhile, the mayor continues to truck in sludge generated at wastewater treatment plants from out of the area and spread it on his pastures on top of the same drinking water aquifer he now expresses concerns about our project contaminating.

We have applied to the U.S. Rural Development Administration for a $15 million loan and grant that will allow us to pump all of our well water to one central location to more efficiently remove by carbon filter all the pesticide contaminants from the drinking water supply. The pesticide contaminants in some of these wells are below DHEC drinking water limits, but we are committed to removing all of the pesticide contamination, not just meeting EPA and DHEC standards.

There is little dispute that our proposed wastewater treatment facility is an important step in ensuring that McBee and its neighbors are well-positioned to attract potential employers. But infrastructure alone cannot bring jobs to our area. Lasting prosperity depends on wise leadership from elected officials who give their communities the tools they need to compete. Tragically, the town's mayor and council have so far offered just the opposite.

In spite of the efforts of the mayor, council and their hired gun, Alligator Rural Water intends to continue to strive to improve the quality of life for all the citizens it serves by providing safe, reliable drinking water and an environmentally friendly way of treating wastewater.