Greenville Water System says one route proposed for a Duke Energy transmission line project that cuts through the water system’s watershed could threaten water quality for its 500,000 customers.
Water system leaders have expressed concern over the quality of water in its North Saluda Watershed in northern Greenville County if Duke Energy clear-cuts a path through the protected watershed to install transmission towers and maintains the lines using herbicides that could leach into the reservoir.
The water system also raised legal questions about Duke Energy’s authority to condemn property in the Greenville County watershed to build the transmission line project.
The legal question was raised in a letter filed Thursday to the South Carolina Public Service Commission by Greenville Water Chairman Phillip Kilgore and CEO David Bereskin.
“We have serious questions whether Duke Energy has legal right to the property owned by Greenville Water (or the City of Greenville),” they said.
Greenville Water holds superior condemnation authority to Duke Energy because the water system is a political subdivision of the state of South Carolina while Duke is a private corporation, they wrote.
Duke Energy officials couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
Protecting the 30,000 acres of old-growth forests that surround the North Saluda and Table Rock reservoirs from any outside incursion has been key to the system’s ability to provide high quality water to its customers, they said.
For three of the past four years, Greenville Water has been named the best-tasting water in South Carolina. In 2011, it was named the best-tasting water in the country by the American Water Works Association.
The watersheds have been protected with a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy since 1992 and no development has been allowed in the easement, leaving it nearly 100 percent forested, which allows the mountain water to be naturally filtered before it reaches the reservoirs.
“Greenville Water has a significant concern that the construction of the right-of-way will result in essentially clear-cutting a swath of wooded areas,” the letter said.
Duke Energy’s use of herbicides or other chemicals to maintain 150-foot-wide rights-of-way could degrade water quality and disrupt the natural filtration system that exists in the watershed, they wrote.
The water system’s comments come as a group of Greenville County landowners, business owners and government agencies have united to fight a specific route — Route 4 — that Duke Energy has proposed through northern Greenville County along State 11 and U.S. 25.
Duke plans to pick a route for transmission lines by early October for a $320 million project to string high-powered 230kv lines atop 140-foot-tall transmission towers from a new proposed substation near Campobello to a tie-in at a proposed natural gas plant at Lake Julian near Asheville, North Carolina.
Possible routes have been divided into more than three dozen segments through Greenville or Spartanburg counties and into western North Carolina. Some segments make use of existing right-of-way while most would require Duke to acquire new rights-of-way through residential areas or forests, many of which are protected through conservation easements.
Duke says the project is needed to meet energy needs from expected growth in North Carolina and to tie the North and South Carolina electric grids together.
The group opposed to Route 4 said the transmission lines would destroy the qualities that earned State 11 a designation as the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway, one of 150 distinct and diverse roads in the United States, and would put that designation in jeopardy.
The lines would irreparably harm the area’s environment, economy and quality of life, the group said in a packet of letters sent to Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good and filed with the Public Service Commission.
Members of the group include partners and homeowners associations of the Cliffs Communities, Blue Ridge Rural Water Company, Camp Old Indian (Boy Scouts of America), the city of Travelers Rest, Glassy Mountain Fire Department, Hincapie Companies, Mountain Hill Community Church and the South Carolina Hang Gliding Association.
J. Robert Wright, managing partner for real estate at the Cliffs, said all real estate transactions at the Cliffs Valley and Cliffs at Glassy are now contingent upon resolution of the transmission line project. If the route through the Cliffs is chosen, it would have a devastating effect on real estate, he said.
The effect on club memberships could be “catastrophic” due to member resignations and having to lower membership fees and could eventually lead to employee layoffs, said David Sawyer, managing partner and president of The Cliffs Clubs.
And Robert Staples, Glassy Mountain fire chief, said the transmission lines would prevent the department from using 11 different helicopter landing zones it needs to reach an elderly population in a rural area when serious medical conditions arise.