Friends and Neighbors,
I wanted to provide an update on the Sewer South project which will provide sewer service to the I-85 corridor in Oconee County once the project is completed. Hopefully I can clear up the some of the misconceptions swirling about the project.
Here are the facts. Sewer South’s lowest bid came in at $12.3 million which is significantly higher than expected. As it stands right now, this bid leaves the county short on the funds required to complete the project by $4.2 million.
The rise in cost was not completely unexpected with the current rate of inflation and the amount of federal cash being injected in to the economy. The cost is $12.3 million, not $60 million or $100 million as some try to claim. They’re using numbers from a basin study (not the sewer south phase 2 project) that is forward looking. The study looked at the entire basin to include Anderson county and predicted where growth may occur over the next 20-30 years and beyond, and where sewer service would be needed if that growth did occur.
This project began back in 2018 when the US Department of Commerce awarded the project a $3.7 million grant and the SC Rural Infrastructure Authority added another $977K.
To cover the $4.2 million gap the county has now requested an additional 50% matching grant of $2.109 million from the SC Rural Infrastructure Authority and $1 million from the US Economic Development Administration.
The county has a strong chance of receiving the grants as the state is focused on infrastructure due to the amount of federal covid cash that has flooded the state. The state still has $580 million left over from the American Rescue Plan Act and the state is sending $380 million of that to the Rural Infrastructure Authority, which is an addition to the $800 million sent to the agency last year for water and sewer. I fully expect the county’s request to be fulfilled.
There’s been a lot of rumors that residents and businesses with existing septic systems, whose property line is within 300’ of the newly installed sewer lines would be forced to connect to the sewer system at their cost. Chris Eleazer, Director of the Oconee Joint Regional Sewer Authority, has made it clear that is not the intent. An update to the regulations is currently under legal review. Mr. Eleazer read me the updates to the regulations and they state that customers on an existing septic system would be allowed to stay on septic until such time that they had to pull a DHEC permit to repair their septic system. The only time DHEC requires a permit to be pulled is when the tank itself needs to be replaced. A septic drain field replacement does not require a DHEC permit. It would more than likely be cheaper to connect to the sewer system than replace a septic tank if that misfortune was to fall on you. There is also an old county ordinance on the books that is a holdover from when sewer was a department of county government. That ordinance is no longer relevant and needs to be erased.
Per the agreement between Oconee Joint Regional Sewer Authority and Oconee County, the county government will cover any gap in operating expenses and revenue for the sewer south system. Other OJRSA sewer customers cannot subsidize operating cost for the sewer south system and as more customers come online to the sewer south system customers on sewer south legally cannot subsidize other sewer system customers. For accounting purposes they’re two separate entities. Mr. Eleazer estimates the annual operating and maintenance cost with zero customers to be between $20k and $40k per year. The sewer south system has one customer in waiting in the Welcome Center at exit 1 which will generate 15k gallons per day of flow.
Also of note, all 41 easements required for the sewer south system have been purchased from the property owners. There will be no eminent domain, seizing of property, or taking of peoples farms. Property owners will continue to be able to use their property as they see fit, no one is going to be forced to sell the farm.
I realize this is a hot button issue for some and I hope that this clears up some of the misunderstandings. Please let me know if you have any questions.