Originally created 06/19/00

Pond stirs up county debate



LANGLEY - Alton Norris remembers swimming in Langley Pond as a boy. So does Jerry Heath, who runs a convenience store almost directly across from Mr. Norris' used-car lot.

And both recall a time when the man-made, almost lake-size pond was so polluted it could make its frequent swimmers' eyes red and itchy.

All that's changed now, and the pond, for years a favorite recreation spot for Horse Creek Valley families, is coming back to life.

Aiken County officials say the pond is safe for swimming and boating, but the state Department of Health and Environmental Control advises against eating fish caught in the pond because the sediment remains polluted.

Still, Mr. Norris and Mr. Heath say the pond is considerably cleaner today than it was 50 years ago. But the two are divided on whether the county council should accept ownership of the pond from its present owner, Lombard Corp., which may make a gift of the Horse Creek Valley landmark to the county.

"I don't know whether Langley Pond would be an asset or not," Mr. Norris said, but he said the county should carefully consider any offer of ownership before reaching a conclusion. That's what he would do, he said.

Mr. Norris owns 12 acres to 13 acres about midway down the length of the pond on the U.S. Highway 421 side at Pleasure Island, the launching site of rowing regattas. In the future, however, regattas may be launched from the new Langley Pond Park, off Langley Dam Road at the western end of the pond.

A public hearing on the county's intent to purchase more than 10 acres for a new recreational facility is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers on Richland Avenue. Although Aiken County Council gave its first vote of approval for the purchase of 10.73 acres for the park, two more votes on the ordinance to buy the property must be held in addition to the public hearing.

The entire $194,000 price tag on the park will be paid for through a combination of money from the state Department of Parks, Tourism and Recreation and state watercraft funds.

Acquisition of the acreage necessary for the park is not what worries some council members, including District 5 Councilman Phil Napier. It's Lombard Corp.'s declaration that sometime in the future, the company might make a gift of the entire pond to Aiken County.

Mr. Napier worries the pond's current pollution problems and the condition of Langley Dam might create an undesirable liability for the county.

"We need to proceed with caution about taking the whole pond," he said at the council meeting. Although he voted for the Langley Pond Park acquisition, he remains skeptical about accepting ownership of the entire body of water.

Langley Dam is considered by DHEC to be a high hazard (Class 1) dam, according to a letter to Brian Sanders, director of Aiken County Parks and Recreation, from Brian L. Tripp, DHEC district engineer.

It is so designated because it is located in an area where dam failure could cause serious damage to homes, industrial facilities, a main highway or a railroad bed. But the results of a DHEC inspection made in January found the dam to be in good working order, Mr. Sanders said.

The inspection found that Langley Dam "was in satisfactory condition and functioning properly. It was noted during the inspection that Aiken County had satisfactorily addressed ... maintenance items associated with the old bulkhead adjacent to the primary spillway next to Air Products," Mr. Tripp wrote June 13.

In addition, Mr. Sanders is confident the current level of pollution in the pond should not be of major concern to the county.

"DHEC has ruled that the current level of pollution in the sediment of the pond does not warrant a massive cleanup. In fact, we are assured that over time, nature will take care of the contamination," he said.

Currently, Aiken County has a 20-year lease, at $1 per year, on the pond with Southern Pines Realty, a subsidiary of Lombard Corp., said Don Houck, president of the corporation.

"The county already is responsible for the entire pond," Mr. Houck said, noting his company is quite serious about making a gift of the 350-acre pond to the county.

Lombard Corp. owns 3,500 acres on either side of U.S. Highway 1 from Clearwater Pond to Midland Valley Country Club, land bought from United Merchants Corp. in 1996. About 280 acres of the property lies between U.S. 1 and Langley Pond, and plans are to develop it within the next 10 to 15 years, Mr. Houck said. Land fronting the highway is likely to be commercially developed, and upscale housing and condominiums are planned for pond frontage.

Jerry Heath gets excited about Langley Pond and future development. He says it means good business at his convenience store. His 25-cent cups of coffee have become famous all over the nation and in parts of Europe as rowers have gone home and spread the news about the good, cheap coffee at Jerry's Curb Market in Gloverville on South Carolina Highway 421.

He thinks the pond is an asset to the county.

"Langley Pond is good for business, and it does me good to see Langley Pond back where it is," Mr. Heath said.

Reach Pat Willis at (803) 279-6895.