Easley residents speak out at Easley Combined Utilities commission meeting

On the second Monday of every month, Easley Combined Utilities (ECU) has regular commission meetings with the management and Commissioners of ECU. 

To provide some context, Easley Combined Utilities is a municipally owned utility, established under the laws of the state of South Carolina. ECU is run by the city with the commissioners elected by the city. The city decides when growth is happening, and the ECU serves it.

The current General Manager at Easley Combined Utilities is Joel Ledbetter. He will be transitioning out of that role mid-year 2023 and moving into a role at Piedmont Power. ECU is currently accepting applications for his replacement.

ECU is governed by a three-member Commission of Public Works.  Each member of the Commission serves a six-year, staggered term.  One commission seat is up for election every two years. The Commission is comprised of Nick Caldwell, Jeff Fogle, and Eric Goodwin.

The Commission sets rates and charges for utility service, plans for future utility expansion and growth, and all the business that goes along with it.  Easley Combined Utilities is a citizen-created, not-for-profit, locally owned and locally controlled utility and their meetings are public.

At the most recent meeting on Monday, April 17th, several people came forward to speak in the public input portion of the meeting:

Neighbors on Sheriff Mill Road came to voice their concerns about annexation of Sheriff Mill and Brown tracts into the city and the ability of ECU to serve customers and grow their business and capacity accordingly. Dawn Crooks from Sheriff Mill area shared some information, expressing several concerns, with Joel Ledbetter of ECU management responding.

Ms. Crooks asked about growth and what the developer pays for infrastructure vs. customers of ECU.

According to Mr. Ledbetter, water and sewer is paid for by the developers along with a capacity fee (if it’s needed). 

“All developers pay a capacity fee for water and sewer developments,” Ledbetter responded in an email we sent for for clarification. “If ‘…if needed…’ was said during the meeting by ECU representatives, it was in error.”

According to Ledbetter, beginning in February 2022 developers were required to pay 25% of the estimated cost of electrical infrastructure for residential development. For commercial and industrial, developers pay 100% of the cost. Beginning in February 2023 residential developers are required to pay $750 per unit for multi-family development and $1,000 per unit for single-family development.

Rate increases from April 1 were addressed.  According to Mr. Ledbetter, this is due to inflation.  

Dawn Crooks also brought up Jim Robinson, member of Easley City Council, who is the attorney of record for ECU and receives a monthly retainer from ECU for that role.

She pointed out that with all the growth and annexation in Easley, ECU is gaining customers, and therefore, ECU benefits if the City of Easley annexes land into the city.  If Jim is voting on annexation, wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest

Neighbors of Sheriff Mill said that Mr. Robinson should likely recuse himself from annexation votes at City Council due to a conflict of interest. General Manager Mr. Ledbetter disagreed.

Next, Rick Tate asked how close are we to capacity for sewer treatment.  Mr. Ledbetter said ECU was at 50% for actual flow vs. allocated flow which is a little bit higher. Right now ECU is in the process of revising their Master Plan for the Sewer System.  Allocation vs. Capacity are the two things they watch for.

Mr. Tate stated that in Easley there was growth of 900 permits to 9000 permits year over year.  He asked if ECU has a grip on how long it will be before they need to build new infrastructure for sewers to handle all the new people.  Mr. Ledbetter didn’t feel comfortable answering  until they looked at the Master Plan in a couple months.

Mr. Granger of Sheriff Mill Road has had issues with ECU sewer overflow and a knocked off manhole cover.  The smell of both is horrendous especially in the summer, and the manhole cover has been an issue for two years.  Alex Dye ECU Operations Engineer will look into it.

Alex Dye also said that sewer pump stations are not enclosed due to explosions.  It came out earlier in the meeting that if Sheriff Mill Brown gets annexed, the developer may have to put in a separate sewer pump station.  Since they are not enclosed, the concern is there will likely be a smell.

“Well operated and maintained sewer pump stations emit little odor,” Joel Ledbetter said.

After this public input session, the agenda went on to regular business including finances and other items:

There was a request to purchase land on Fuller Drive that is owned by ECU. This request was first mentioned back in December. ECU owns 17.4 acres near Saluda Lake, there are two parcels.

Mr. Elliott Batson wants to buy the smaller parcel, which is contiguous to his land and has frontage on Fuller Road. A few people on the commission know Mr. Batson and his cousin and brother. ECU paid $7400 per acre back in 2003 and in 20 years they haven’t used it.

ECU is willing to sell, they need an appraisal, and new comps. ECU is willing to entertain this and Mr. Batson should make an offer.  Land is in high demand and well-priced for sellers.  Here is a map of the property in question that is potentially up for sale.

Next was a vote on the construction of building at Operations Center. Motion was passed to start building.

Third, was a request from Naturaland Trust for contribution to conserving Jopeco property. Motion was approved.

Changes for charges in stage rentals to reflect work needed and marketplace costs were proposed. Motion was approved.

In additional business, ECU had a meeting with ReWa on capacity. ReWa is discussing expansion as the need caught them off guard.

ECU purchased 500,000 gpd capacity in ReWa’s Georges Creek WWTP in 2019, and is approaching that 500,000 capacity. The routine meetings between ECU and ReWa are to discuss the existing and potential flow from ECU customers into the ReWa Georges Creek plant.

The meeting adjourned to Executive Session.