The developer-owned Kiawah Island Utility (KIU), which provides water and sewage service to Kiawah, is in the process of planning a backup water supply line to Kiawah, from Bryans Dairy Road near Briars Creek on Johns Island, under the Kiawah River, through established neighborhoods, and connecting to the mid-island pumping station near the Preserve. Although the concept of a redundant supply line makes sense, there has been little oversight of the planning process and no determination that the plan being proposed is the best approach for the community.
In South Carolina, the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and US Army Corps of Engineers provide pre-construction review of projects for certain environmental risks. In addition, Section 6-29-510 of SC statutes requires review by the local (i.e. Town) Planning Commission, and the Town was made aware of this requirement a year ago. (It should be noted that the Charleston County Planning Commission will conduct a review, but it only has jurisdiction over the Johns Island portion of the project.) Only after construction is completed will the SC Public Service Commission get involved by reviewing the cost of the project in order to pass on costs that it concludes are justified to customers in the form of a rate increase.
The Town of Kiawah Island has been aware of the project since at least December, 2013 (possibly earlier), but has chosen not to take any action. In the meantime, KIU has had few public meetings on the project: one requested by a neighborhood likely affected (no Town official attended), a presentation to the Community Association (KICA) board, and one requested by the Town Planning Commission. Although my neighborhood is impacted, all property owners should be concerned, since we, not the Utility, will be paying for the project, and the plan should be reviewed regardless of where the project is built. The Utility admits that the proposed plan is not the least expensive option and that there is no plan to rebuild the existing west island supply line, but rather to continue repairing leaks in it as they occur. Although the line provides a backup source for the island, KIU has stated that the new line is also needed to stabilize water pressure in the new development at the east end of the island.
The project is moving ahead, and it makes sense that the community and the Town review the project before construction begins so that we all can be comfortable that the project will benefit the entire community.
Some of the questions to be addressed should be:
1. If the option selected is not the least expensive one, what are the costs and deliverables for the other options?
2. What impact will there be on service if the line to west island is not replaced?
3. Has there been a review by an independent engineer to determine if the proposed plan is the best way to proceed?
4. What environmental damage might result from the current proposal, which involves tunneling below 6900 feet of the Kiawah River plus more than 1000 feet under marshland? One alternative is a back-up line parallel to the existing supply line, which tunnels under only about 100 feet of the river. (Note, Seabrook’s back-up line runs parallel to their main supply line.)
5. Do any of the Development Agreements have provisions that impact costs to the community vs. costs absorbed by the Utility / developer for the various construction options?
6. Just as the Town’s building inspectors oversee construction projects on homes in the community, shouldn’t oversight of the construction project on Kiawah be conducted by an independent engineer, not solely the Utility’s engineer, which is the proposed plan?
7. Shouldn’t the Town review noise level and other work standards, rather than accept without question whatever the Utility decides to do?
What should be done at this point? Past utility projects were scrutinized by a property owners’ group, but that group no longer exists. It is clearly the Town’s role to undertake a thorough review of the project, something that could have begun two years ago. The Planning Commission’s refusal to conduct a comprehensive review is unreasonable, especially considering the fact that the Commission sent a letter to DHEC to support a backup supply line and extended an invitation to KIU to make a presentation to its members (no questions from the public allowed). Rather than look for excuses not to get involved, the Town should step-up and represent the interests of the entire community, so that everyone can be comfortable with the expense and the inconvenience, particularly given the magnitude and cost ($8.5 million) of this project.
Kiawah Island, SC