By Emma Woodham, The Island Eye News Staff Writer
Prior to the regular monthly meeting, the Sullivan’s Island Town Council held a special meeting to discuss the Wastewater Treatment Plant and proposed improvements for the plant. Mayor Pat O’Neill called the meeting to order, stating that the time to decide on a plan is now and that he wanted to make sure all the residents were aware. Town Administrator Andy Benke provided all assembled with a brief history of the current Wastewater Treatment Plant which was built in 1969. The plant currently has the ability to process and filter just over 500,000 gallons of water per day. Benke also illustrated the need for improving the plant, citing the seismic threat to the area as one reason. Storm surge, however, is the biggest cause for concern to the council because it only takes a ten-foot tide to flood portions of the plant and disrupt the operation. In 2014, three options for the Wastewater Treatment Plant were presented: do nothing, design and upgrade the facility to withstand a one hundred-year flood event, or disassemble the plant and pump the water to Mount Pleasant. For Sullivan’s Island to benefit from FEMA funding for the project, a five hundred-year plan had to be established, further delaying a decision. This summer, the FEMA-approved plan was completed. This additional plan gives the town four options for the plant.
Greg Gress, General Manager over Water and Wastewater on the island, said that doing nothing is not an option. He presented illustrations of the proposed changes with both the one hundred-year plan and the five hundred-year plan. The one hundred-year plan will elevate electrical portions of the plant by over 12 feet while the five hundred-year plan elevates it nearly 20 feet. The one hundredyear plan will take approximately 26 months to complete and will cost approximately $10 million. The five hundred-year plan will take twice as long to complete and will cost somewhere close to $14 million. FEMA funding is expected to assist with the five hundredyear plan, but depending on FEMA makes the timeline more uncertain given recent events across the United States. Councilmember Bachman Smith pointed out that a lot of the water filtering through the Wastewater Treatment Plant is groundwater and rainwater. He believes that the drainage projects that are ongoing on Sullivan’s Island run hand-in-hand with the updates to the treatment plant so that the town is not treating water that it isn’t selling.
Smith added that it will cost over $4 million to fix the infiltration and inflow of rainwater and groundwater on the island but it will extend the life of the collection systems by 50 years. Administrator Benke spoke again, saying that it’s time for the council to decide which plan to proceed with. Councilman Smith moved that the council should accept the one hundred-year plan for renovating and elevating the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Councilwoman Rita Langley seconded the motion and the motion passed unanimously.