Orangeburg taking over the neighborhood sewers; DPU plans to improve the system | national news

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The Orangeburg Utilities Department has reached a tentative agreement to take over Northwood Estates’ aging sewer system.

DPU now has the green light to make the necessary repairs for the system upgrade starting October 1st.

The city-owned utility announced in March 2022 that it was taking over the system and expected to officially have full ownership on June 1. The process took longer than expected.

“As we worked through the legal process to make sure the city accepted the system on good terms, we had to make this decision to position ourselves to better get the agreement we thought was necessary to make this possible,” said the director of the DPU, Warren Harley. said. “I think it’s a good thing that we were able to reach an agreement.”

“We had tough negotiations on both sides, but ultimately the goal for everyone was to transfer the system to the Utilities Department and that’s what happened,” Harley said.

“South Carolina Water Utilities is committed to providing top-notch water and wastewater services to our customers,” said South Carolina Water Utilities President Craig Sorensen. “In this instance, we felt our customers would be best served by continuing the momentum of the previous owner of the Northwoods system and transferring these assets to the Orangeburg Utilities Department. We look forward to working with the DPU to complete the transfer and ensure that these customers continue to receive the highest quality services available.”

Orangeburg City Council met behind closed doors for nearly two hours to discuss a number of items, including Northwood Estates.

Coming out of the closed session, council voted unanimously to rescind the March 15 resolution that authorized DPU to receive and operate the sewer system.

There has been no public debate on the issue.

Harley said the acceptance of the system was then rescinded because there was an outstanding legal issue that prevented the deal from being finalized.

A subsequent meeting between the two parties ended with the finalization of the agreement.

Declining to provide specific details on the final legal issues that have been successfully resolved, Harley said, “We have agreed to the legal terms set out in the contract.”

“The big goal at this point was that we wanted to make sure the citizens of Orangeburg were protected as we move into a new system,” he said. “That was the goal and I think we achieved it.”

Harley said the wording of the agreement will be put on paper, reviewed and then presented to city council at its Sept. 20 meeting to empower them to sign the agreement.

As part of the transition, DPU did not purchase the existing infrastructure as it was strictly a transfer of ownership.

DPU already supplies electricity, gas and water to the district.

What shall we do now?

Harley said that from October 1, DPU would begin “to do a thorough assessment of the system to ensure that we are addressing the concerns that exist”.

“We will begin to put in place measures to provide funds to remedy these situations,” Harley said, adding that part of the assessment will be determining the exact financial figures needed to upgrade the system.

Orangeburg County will help pay approximately $700,000 for system stabilization.

“It will help us as our wastewater team begins to assess the system and its needs more thoroughly,” Harley said. “This funding will help us fill the gaps.”

Harley said there will also be an effort to secure federal funding to tackle the system.

“Funding from the county and through federal and state grants will give us the lion’s share of what we need to fix the problems in the system,” Harley said. “There will be a need for matching grants, which will impact our current funds, but it will be much easier to achieve the goal of fixing the system with the funding that is coming in.”

As a result, Harley said there should be minimal impact to current DPU ratepayers as he takes over the system.

Harley said residents will be able to see DPU crews doing assessments, but when the equipment will be in the field is difficult to determine.

“There’s a lot of engineering to do in there,” DPU spokesman Randy Etters said. “Our team is going to be really strategic so that we can make the most of the dollars we’ve already committed.”

“There are areas of this system that are a little worse off than others, so obviously those are the ones we’ll be targeting,” Etters said.

Although the equipment may not be visible, Etters said residents should see an immediate impact on their November sewer bills.

“They will likely realize an average savings of 66% based on what they’re paying now versus what they’re paying under the DPU scenario,” Etters said.

Residents of Orangeburg’s Northwood Estates have long been concerned about the neighborhood’s aging private sewer system.

The Northwood Estates System has been privately owned since the neighborhood’s inception.

The system was owned and operated by Midlands Utilities, which became Synergy Utilities. Synergy was responsible for collecting and maintaining the lines.

DPU was paid to transport and treat the wastewater from the system.

The system’s high sewage treatment costs were blamed on groundwater infiltration, which forced customers to pay for treatment of additional water that entered the sewer system.

Synergy defended its retention of the system.

Synergy Utilities was eventually purchased by South Carolina Water Utilities Inc. and the new owner had agreed to abandon the system.

DPU has always said it is a strong supporter of Northwood Estates residents as they seek to lower their monthly sewer bills.

The utility offered system owners the use of its equipment and account data, held meetings, and used significant DPU resources in the search for a resolution.

The opportunity to take over the system was created through the efforts of the Orangeburg County Legislative Delegation, including former Senator John Matthews, the SC Office of Regulatory Personnel and the SC Public Service Commission, Etters said.

“We will own all the infrastructure,” Etters said. “As the wholesaler for this system, they would pick it up and they would send it to us and we would send it for processing.”

“At this point, we will not only be the processing component of Northwood Estates, but we will also be the collection component, so all assets will become the property of the City of Orangeburg,” Etters said. “That was one of the things we needed to make sure we had our ducks in a row.”

Community meetings with the people of Northwood Estates were held to inform residents of everything they needed to do to accept service through DPU.

Northwood Estates Homeowners Association President Barbara Williams expressed her appreciation and gratitude that a transfer agreement had been reached.

“Hopefully this time it’s final,” Williams said. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We were supposed to fix this on June 1. Three months later, they’re now saying it’s official.”

“I think all of us in the neighborhood are ready for this new beginning by having one company that we will deal with since we have water, electricity and gas with DPU,” she said.

Williams also expressed satisfaction that the state Civil Service Commission is willing to work with all parties to resolve the issue.

Williams said residents hope the changes will result in lower bills, a healthier water system and better service.

Homeowners have paid high prices for sewers over the past decade and would often pay for sewer services they did not use.

The neighborhood has often suffered from burst pipes and water leaks into the sewers.

Several years ago, Orangeburg County paid to have the system evaluated. At that time, the estimate to fix the system was around $2.1 million.

“It’s something that everyone has been pushing to give the people of this area a fair jolt for a decent water bill,” said Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young. “It’s a show of unity between the city and the county working together to solve citizens’ problems. I think that’s what we should always do.”

Young gave “kudos” to Barbara Williams for being a “strong advocate” for her community.

“She really let us know,” he said.

“It’s a miracle and I’m grateful for it,” said Orangeburg County Council Chairman Johnnie Wright. “I want to thank them for everything that has been involved in this project because it was a long ongoing thing. I’m so glad there is a solution for the citizens of Northwood Estates.”

DPU officials say the system needs seepage mitigation because a large percentage of the discharge is groundwater.

This would include redesigning all existing taps, repairing manholes and upgrading pump stations. New collection infrastructure in certain areas of the district will be installed.

DPU will begin engaging engineers to develop a rehabilitation plan once all legal details have been completed.

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