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Johns Island - Strong opposition to extending sewage facilities

Compromise seems likely
Warwick Jones

Johns Island residents today strongly expressed their ire at the proposal for Charleston Water System (CWS) to provide sewage disposal to areas outside the Urban Growth Boundary. The meeting was called by the Council of Governments (COGS) after a request from St Johns Water Company (SJWC) and CWS. Under the proposal, CWS would provide sewage facilities for up to 1250 residences on Johns Island and outside the County-defined Urban Growth Boundary. The utilities also proposed that sewage disposal should be made available to all residents on the island that were within the Urban Growth Boundary without the necessity of first annexing into the City of Charleston.

No opposition to dispensing with annexation obligation
There was no opposition to CWS providing sewage disposal to residences within the Urban Growth Boundary without the annexation obligation, but almost total opposition to provision to residences outside the boundary. After the more-than-2 hour meeting, some compromise seemed likely with Johns Island residents hesitatingly agreeing, or acquiescing, to provision for one sub-division.

Need to go back to Council decision 3 years ago
The whole issue is complex and to facilitate explanation, one must go back three years to the County Council decision to extend the Urban Growth Boundary on Johns Island. The Boundary was pushed out to the East and South, and added 2400 acres to the urban area. The decision was not unanimous but according to the Post and Courier, Council members Bostic, Scott, Roberts and Lawrimore supported the change. Mr. Fran Roberts no longer is a Council member and Barret Lawrimore died nearly 2 years ago.

The change aroused considerable hostility and Council decided to move the boundary back 11 months later to its original position. The period was long enough for some development approvals. One of these projects - for 590 housing units - is the principal cause of the present grief. As the development was within the Urban Growth Boundary at that time, the developer could reasonably expect that he could apply and receive sewage service. Because of the law, his application had to be made to SJWC. SJWC considered providing sewage facilities for the island but because of the large investment needed, decided not to. But it would allow CWS to provide the service to the development.

Opening the door for development
All the speakers at the hearing noted the likely adverse impact of providing the sewage service. They said it was opening the door for development. It was contrary to the County Comprehensive Plan, a plan that has served Johns Island and the County well. No infrastructure was being created nor was it allowed, to service these developments - no schools, no EMS. The development was totally inappropriate. County Council Chairman Stavrinakis sent a letter cautioning COGS about approving the provision of sewage disposal and spoke of the restraints imposed by the Comprehensive Plan. We add that Chairman Stravrinakis was not in favor of moving the Urban Growth Boundary in 2003.

Why so many units?
After listening to the discussion and argument, one wonders why it took so long to reach a compromise, and indeed, why the original proposal was made so provocative. Under the first proposal, CWS would provide sewage to up to 1250 residential units. These would be in the 2400-acre area that essentially was added to the urban area when the Growth Boundary was changed 3 years ago. But why 1250 units? This was an arbitrary figure, CWS said. It was derived by assuming that all residential units in the urban areas over the years would turn to CWS for sewage disposal. There was capacity to service all these units and more. CWS calculated that this remaining capacity would allow it to service another 1250 residential units. It would make this capacity available to SJIW who would also decide who would receive the service.

Residents were angry that so many residential units were being considered. They became more so when the representative of the SJIW kept referring to an "agreement" it had with some 1100 potential customers to provide the service. If the company had decided not to provide sewage disposal, how could it possibly have an agreement? Although there was no yielding by the company, it seems to us there was an "intent" to allow CWS to provide the service, but it was not an "agreement" in a legal sense.

Looking to ease administration burden
CWS spoke of the administration problems of providing service under existing rules. It could only provide service to residences in the City of Charleston. Any property owner who wanted sewage disposal had to annex into the City. All applications were done on the basis of TMS numbers. Doing away with the annexation rule and approving a blanket 1250 units outside the urban growth boundary would make planning and administration simpler, it said. But CWS said it was not pushing to service 1250 units, or indeed the 590 units. It was only responding to a request.

Developer will move head regardless
A representative of the developer was at the meeting and indicated that one way or another, the development would go ahead. He indicated that if CWS did not provide sewage facilities, then the developer would. The Coastal Conservation League opined that independent sewage facilities would not be permitted under law. It and other speakers suggested that it would not be environmental friendly. We do not know whether this would be the case, but it seems clear to us, and to other members of the public that the developer has some rights. Perhaps it would be best to allow the development be serviced by CWS. But no other development should be serviced.

Agreement on compromise
The representatives of SJWC, CWS and COGS all seemed to agree to the compromise, to provide sewage disposal for only one subdivision. The respective Boards and Commissions were to be consulted with the view of drawing up a new and appropriate proposal - to provide sewage facilities to all residences within the urban area regardless of whether properties were within the City of Charleston, and to confine the provision of sewage disposal outside the Urban Growth Boundary to the 590 units in the one subdivision. Assuming this occurs, it will be presented at another public hearing for consideration.

We also note the comment of one of the speakers. It was strange that a non-elected body such as COGS had the power to make determinations relating to sewage provision. He also noted that of the large number on the COGS board, only one was at the meeting today. We estimate there were about 30 members of the public present.

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