THOMAS ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - Construction on a long-awaited sewage pump station project in Berkeley County is expected to start next week, but some people who live near the site say they just learned about the plans over the summer and are not happy.
Charleston Water System is getting ready to start cutting trees to make way for the Thomas Island Regional Pump Station and Interceptor Project on a four-acre wooded property on Thomas Island near Daniel Island.
“I’m pretty upset,” said neighbor Regina Veneziano. “I chose to build my home on this lot in summer 2011 specifically because there’s trees behind my house [and] beautiful trees in front.”
Veneziano says she found out about the proposed facility off Clouter Creek Drive in August of this year after Charleston Water System representatives knocked on doors and held a community meeting with residents of the Shell Ring area.
Erik Rogers, another neighborhood resident, expressed concerns over the potential smell caused by the project’s completion along with an eagle’s nest nearby that has been documented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This is probably one of the most clandestine projects I’ve ever seen for the size and scope,” said Rogers. “In my opinion, they hid this thing until the last second and hoped that nobody would notice and sprung it upon us trying to basically just roll forward with it as soon as possible.”
When completed, the Thomas Island Regional Pump Station will replace an existing, smaller-capacity pump station at the corner of Clouter Creek Drive and Victoria Road. The new facility will not only serve existing communities but also neighborhoods slated to be built along Clements Ferry Road in the years to come.
“This pump station has to be located here and it has to be built now,” said Charleston Water System spokesperson Mike Saia, who explained that the utility has been notified of nearby proposals from a number of developers.
“If we don’t right-size this pump station by building a new one, frankly this [current] pump station will be overwhelmed and overflow into the community and of course we’d never let that happen,” said Saia.
The utility is legally required to respond to new development and build out sewage infrastructure, according to Saia, who noted that their updated plans will not disturb the eagle’s nest neighbors told them about.
Neighbors also say they are worried that the existing tree line across from their homes would be destroyed to make way for the project.
The project will involve clearing a 30-foot wide swath of trees down the road. Tree clearing is set to begin next week.
“To find out [our trees are] now in jeopardy is pretty disheartening and discouraging,” said Veneziano.
Saia said that the tree line is just being pushed back, noting that trees cannot be replaced above the new sewer line that will be installed since roots could potentially get into the line and cause issues. He believes the new tree line will fill in with foliage over the next year and still be aesthetically pleasing.
Meanwhile, residents like Andy Fisher are concerned about potential impacts of the new pump station like a reduction in property values.
“That’s going to basically drive down the price we can sell our homes,” said Fisher, adding that “there is an element of fairness that we feel like has been violated.”
Saia said that this project has long been in the works and on their master plan. He said Charleston Water System bought the property back in 2003, but neighbors who subsequently moved into the area say they never knew that changes might be in store for the wooded property.
“When we bought this house, we asked would there be any potential for development,” said Rogers. “I was told, no, those are protected wetlands.”
That’s up to relators to research, Saia said. Charleston Water System’s plans have been mentioned in the agency’s capital improvements program for years and the utility had articles published about the project in The Daniel Island News nearly two years ago and again this summer, according to Saia.
“Every project CWS undertakes is part of a master plan,” Saia said. “We know 10, 20, 30 years out in general what we’re going to be doing. People can contact us any time and ask these questions. Realtors call us all the time.”
Originally, the plan was to build a much larger project on this acreage, but it was scaled back. CWS Engineers said contractors are building the slab and entry driveway for the station on a specific part of the property that is not considered wetlands.
He also said there are 215 such pump stations in Charleston right now and that they rarely get complaints about smells since the tanks are underground. This new station will be surrounded by a vinyl fence and extra foliage that should blend in with the surrounding trees, Saia said.
A Berkeley County spokesperson told Live 5 News that necessary permits for the project have been issued. Representatives from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated that they issued permits for the project this past winter.
Now, as neighbors prepare for more than a year of construction to begin, Veneziano says this project should serve as a warning to people who have a scenic view from their home.
“Just because you buy a home and think your surrounding area is beautiful, that does not mean it’s safe and secure.”
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