Attorney clears the air over sewer plant site
Property owners at Inlet Point South say there is something rotten in the plan to create two new lots in the middle of their gated community.
But it isn’t a sewer plant.
“There’s possibly some H2S odor because of the well,” said Ray Gagnon, executive director of Georgetown County Water and Sewer District, referring to “rotten egg” scent of hydrogen sulfide. “It was pretty benign.”
That’s because the site was never used for sewer treatment as claimed.
Georgetown County Council is scheduled to take a final vote March 28 on a request from the Peninsula at Inlet Point Owners Association to change the “planned development” zoning at Inlet Point South to add two lots.
One argument made to county officials was that the new lots would be an improvement over the sewer plant that has occupied the property for 20 years.
“I would speculate that looking at a $2 million house versus an active sewer plant would not be a negative,” Dan Stacy, attorney for the Peninsula association told the Planning Commission last month.
Following last week’s council meeting, Stacy admitted he was wrong.
“I was fundamentally not understanding how that thing was operating,” Stacy said. “I will clarify that at third reading.”
Water and sewer for the 33 lots at the Peninsula was handled by a private system because the development on the southern end of Litchfield Beach falls within the federal Coastal Barrier Resources System. To discourage development, no federal funding can be used for infrastructure.
Water for the Peninsula came from wells and was stored on the site that is now proposed for the two lots.
Wastewater was pumped to a lagoon west of Highway 17, where it was treated by aeration, Gagnon said. The treated effluent was sprayed over the driving range at the Reserve golf course.
In 2019, the Peninsula association asked the water district to take over the aging system. The concern, Gagnon said, was for the water flow needed for fire protection.
“HOA’s should try to be maintaining utilities anyway,” he added.
The initial proposal called for the utility, a state special-purpose district, to take over the private system until it could be connected to the public system. “They were not able or willing to maintain it to our standard,” Gagnon said.
The district never had a hand in the Peninsula system’s operation.
Instead, the district got waivers from federal agencies to allow the Peninsula to connect without jeopardizing federal funding.
The application for the zoning change included letters from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control confirming that the sewer treatment facility and the spray disposal site had been closed. The proposed house sites were referred to in reports from the planning staff as a “water/sewer treatment facility.”
“It was not even for treatment. Just a reservoir,” Gagnon said. “Chlorine was added at the well head.”
The Peninsula lots are also part of the Inlet Point South Owners Association. Owners of some of the 26 lots at Inlet Point South oppose the change to the planned development, saying they relied on the zoning that showed the property in the middle of the neighborhood as open space.
If the water tank and adjacent block building aren’t pretty, they are only about 15 feet high; low enough for beachfront owners to see the creek and creekfront owners to see the ocean.
The neighbors say the new houses would rise about 50 feet since they would be elevated to meet flood regulations.
County Council Member Stella Mercado, who made the motion to approve the zoning change at second reading last week, said whether the site was for water or sewer doesn’t make a difference.
“Whatever it was, it was decommissioned,” she said.
The important factor to her was that the boards of the Peninsula and Inlet Point South associations both sent letters in support of the change.
Stacy said he heard “moaning and groaning” from the opponents when he spoke about the former “sewer plant” during the public comment period at the council meeting. No one contradicted him then, or at the previous Planning Commission hearing. He talked afterward with the attorney representing the opponents.
He acknowledged that the mistake was his, not the Peninsula association’s.
“I will, no pun intended, try to clean that up,” Stacy said.