Originally created 03/06/03

Company goes to court over pollution citations



A sewage treatment company in Aiken, which state authorities say has contaminated local waterways since 2001 despite being repeatedly warned to stop, will contest the allegations in court next month, an environmental official said Monday.

The company, Carolina Water Services Inc., will become the third subsidiary of Chicago-based Utilities Inc. to go to court over pollution citations issued by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"It's our last step," said Robin Foy, the manager of DHEC's water enforcement division, of the legal action.

Utilities Inc. owns six South Carolina utility companies that operate 20 to 25 water and sewerage facilities in the state, Mr. Foy said. It owns more than 300 water and sewerage companies throughout the country, including two in Georgia.

Eleven of the company's South Carolina facilities have been reprimanded for environmental infractions and pollution in recent years, Mr. Foy said.

The company's utilities in Georgia had no serious violations, according to state environmental officials.

Carolina Water Services, an affiliate of South Carolina Utilities Inc. in Columbia, handles sewage for the Gem Lakes and Woodside Plantation neighborhoods in Aiken.

The company was first cited in June 2001 for contaminating three ponds and the stream that feeds them, according to DHEC records. The company disposes of wastewater with a sprinkler system that distributes it across a field, records show. Agency officials found waste flowing into a stream on their first visit and on five inspections since then, most recently in September. The stream empties into the Savannah River.

The contaminated waterways in Aiken were found to have elevated phosphorus and nitrate/nitrite levels and fecal coliform, records show. This led to an overabundance of algae, which suffocated plants in the ponds, records show.

The contamination is not harmful to humans, officials said.

Rick Bryan, the regional manager for Carolina Water Services, said the company is appealing because the "spray field had no effect on the environment outside the spray field."

"We can't see how it was determined we were the source," Mr. Bryan said.

He said it's possible that cow pastures near the stream, stormwater or the city of Aiken's sewage-treatment facility contaminated the waterways. State records indicated that the company has tried to correct the problem.

DHEC has suggested that Carolina Water Services hook up to the city's sewer system, Mr. Foy said.

The company has asked the city council for permission to do that, and the council will vote on the request Monday.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803)279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.