To the editor:
For a generation, Lake Busbee has been a welcoming sight to those visiting the Grand Strand; a sign that they are almost there. But for Conway residents, Lake Busbee has meant something different. The lake has been a sign of home. It’s as much a part of the fabric of Conway as the Waccamaw River, the Clock Tower or the mighty Conway Tiger.
Lake Busbee was once a complex network of wetlands that extended from the Waccamaw River to what is now New Road. In 1966, the Santee Cooper Grainger Steam Generating Power Plant was constructed to bring reliable power to the region. An earthen berm was constructed around the wetlands and a pump system was installed at the steam plant, which pulled water from the Waccamaw River, circulated it through the plant and discharged the water into the bermed area, creating Lake Busbee. The lake is still a man-made and machine-filled water body. If the pumps were turned off today, the water level would drop and the lake would eventually drain back into that network of wetlands. There would be some high ground with trees, some low land with water and eventually it would look like a swamp.
The Grainger Plant was decommissioned in 2012, was dismantled and the site cleared; however, environmental cleanup of the site continues and the fly ash ponds are now expected to be emptied by 2018. With closure of the plant, Santee Cooper declared Lake Busbee to be surplus property but has continued to pump water into the lake. There are no plans to clean up the lake.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) has approved Santee Cooper’s closure plan of the lake which allows the energy company to keep pumping the lake full of water or drain the lake. Either option requires Santee Cooper to place restrictions on the site prohibiting the use of the lake for any recreational activities as there are elevated levels of both copper and arsenic in the lake. The City of Conway and Santee Cooper have had discussions regarding the lake’s future and Santee Cooper has offered the lake to the city.
The city has serious concerns in taking this lake. It is polluted. There are elevated levels of arsenic and copper in the lake, which makes the lake unusable. You cannot fish in it, you cannot swim in it, you cannot boat, paddle, kayak or float on it. You shouldn’t touch the water at all. The expense of maintaining the lake is immense. Cost estimates on keeping the site a lake top $200,000 per year and this does not include any major system failures. Finally, ownership of the lake creates a liability for the city. The city must insure the property to protect taxpayers from liability claims. If the pumps are turned off and the lake drained, the property would still be contaminated and unusable. Further, knowingly owning a polluted property also creates long-range liability for cleanup requirements into the future.
We have long strived to be stewards of our sensitive lands near the Waccamaw River and watersheds. At present, Santee Cooper has no plans to clean up the 300-plus acre Lake Busbee. Lake Busbee deserves to be well managed and treated as an asset. The expense of the contamination of the lake should not be borne by the taxpayers of the City of Conway, now or in the future.
Interim city administrator
City of Conway