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“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”, Harry S. Truman, 33rd U.S. President.  Saluda County Water & Sewer Authority (SCWSA), Saluda Commission of Public Works (CPW), the Town of Saluda (Town), and Saluda County (County) met Wednesday, August 26, 2020, to sign a Wastewater Treatment Agreement.  The signers were Mariam Adams with CPW, Amelia Herlong with the Town, and Al Stevens with SCWSA.  For the past two years, these three governmental entities carved out a complex and technical legal document that protects each parties’ interests.  

Here’s what you as a reader of the Saluda Sentinel need to know:

It’s good for the environment.  SCWSA’s new Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) will be built beside CPW’s existing WWTP, see the proposed site layout.  The new WWTP will improve the water quality of the Little Saluda River.  This project has gained the support of the Lake Murray Association.

It’s good financially for all parties.  On the surface, you would think a $30 million dollar capital project would mean higher sewer bills, but you would be wrong.  By working together, it provides a lower cost to treat sewage for both CPW and SCWSA.  That means it helps contain customer costs for each.

For CPW, they avoid going into debt for WWTP upgrades.  CPW had secured a loan of $6 million to upgrade its WWTP.  By partnering with SCWSA, they avoid this debt.  In the WWTP Agreement, SCWSA offered a number of incentives, totaling $4 million dollars so CPW would not go into debt to help them financially.

For SCWSA, it contains their sewer treatment costs, adds CPW as a wholesale customer, and adds additional capacity to treat sewer.  Currently, SCWSA has only 100 sewer customers.  This WWTP provides the foundation for sewer throughout Saluda County.

It’s good for keeping and creating new businesses and jobs.  The first question any prospective business asks how much water, sewer, and labor is available.  It provides Saluda County over 3 Million Gallons per Day (MGD) in capacity for the growth of existing businesses and attracting new businesses to Saluda.

Negotiations of this magnitude are always difficult.  Many simply avoid collaboration because it is perceived to be too difficult.  Building detailed contracts require trust and establishing trust is difficult, requiring time.  Further, hard-gained trust can evaporate in an instant.  The negotiators can be quickly be swayed by their peers second-guessing their actions.  It can also bring up old deep-seated feelings from the past about the other parties that can curtail discussions.

I commend all three parties for forging ahead where others would have wilted.  I believe what helped was understanding that it was not just about themselves.  Each recognized they represent something more than themselves in these negotiations.  Each recognized working together would benefit all of Saluda County.  It was this bigger picture that was a guiding light that led the way to this momentous day.

I would like to personally thank Keith Berry and his Commissioners at CPW, Miriam Adams, Motte Yarbrough, and Tony Black.  They should be praised for their leadership.  It is always difficult to trust.  Former CPW Chairman, Earl Forrest would be proud.  Out of these negotiations, I have enjoyed getting to know each Commissioner.  They have demonstrated their trust in signing this WWTP Agreement.  SCWSA will not let them or the people of Saluda down.

I would be remiss not to personally thank Tom Brooks, Mayor Amelia Herlong, and her Town Council Members, Miliken Matthews, Obie Combs, Lauren Yonce, and John Mark Griffith.  They were the steady hand on the tiller.  If the waters were choppy, Mayor Herlong’s actions were measured and deliberate.  The Mayor helped guide the negotiations forward, looking for common ground and compromise.  All of the Town’s leadership should be commended.

I must also acknowledge my appreciation for SCWSA’s Board, Al Stevens, Bob Nelson, Jimmy Gillian, and Jerry Coleman in displaying trust through this complex negotiation.  Before and during negotiations, SCWSA’s Board pushed for evidence to demonstrate the financial and technical soundness of this Wastewater Treatment Plant.  It was their oversight of the project ensured that this project will be a success.

Finally, SCWSA’s Chairman Al Stevens emphatically stated, the former SCWSA Chairman, Jerry Strawbridge deserved praise for his leadership on behalf of SCWSA.  He attended every meeting during the negotiations.  He read every contract revision and ensured SCWSA was protected. He also ensured that it was a balanced contract that provided a win for all parties involved.  Al continued, it is appropriate that in July he was elected as Saluda County’s Chairman because he has truly demonstrated compassion for all of Saluda County’s citizens.

This is a watershed moment for Saluda County that everyone should celebrate!  However, there is still much to be done.  The construction of the WWTP will take at least two years.  SCWSA has been working in good faith toward this day.  SCWSA has completed and submitted the engineering design for regulatory review.  SCWSA has been and will continue to work hard to get this project to construction.  As will all good things, they don’t happen overnight.  This WWTP project still has a lot to be accomplished before it is placed into operation.  On behalf of all the parties that approved this WWTP Agreement, we ask for your prayers for this project to move forward without setback.

Jason Fell, SCWSA General Manager