PSC gets earful of complaints on rate hikes

By Al Dozier

Rate hikes proposed by Blue Granite Water Co. came under heavy fire Thursday as residents of the Irmo area voiced heated comments to the Public Service Commission (PSC) during a public hearing at the Irmo Municipal Building.

The seven commissioners of the PSC, the agency that approves rate increases, listened intently as dozens of people voiced their concerns.

“It’s a money grab,” Irmo resident Chris Kessler told commissioners. “No is not the answer. HN is the answer.”

“Enough is enough,” said Karen Caddell, who cited a “pollution history” in the community that’s been going on for years by the local utility.

The rate increase was called “ridiculous” by several residents.

“It costs more to flush your toilet than get clean drinking water” said Malinda Weeks.

Another resident said she is “ready to move” because of the rate hike.

Several residents voiced concerns that the rates would cause people to move out of the area and that property values would decrease.

There were also concerns about service issues.

Two residents complained that fire hydrants are not being maintained by Blue Granite. The failure of a hydrant during a recent house fire likely resulted in an entire home being burned down, according to one resident.

Others complained that Blue Granite was not responsive to problem calls and is not restoring properties after digging into yards to repair lines.

When asked about the rate increase during his appearance at an Irmo Council meeting earlier this month, Blue Granite President Don Denton said increased revenues are needed to maintain an aging system negatively affected by infrastructure that goes back into the 1930s and is badly in need of rehabilitation.

Denton said utility costs are not just going up in Irmo, but throughout the nation.

Blue Granite services more than 17,000 water customers and more than 13,000 sewer customers in 16 counties across the state.

Under the proposal, water rates could go up between 35-55 percent, while sewer rates could increase by 56 percent. Sewer customers in the Irmo area could face a bill up to $100 a month.

Some residents questioned why sewer rates weren’t based on usage.

“This is the first place I’ve ever lived where sewer was not somehow measured commensurate to the water usage” said Diana Lackey.

Irmo Councilman Erik Sickinger said Blue Granite is seeking a “bail out” at the expense of rate payers.

“This rake hike is an existential threat to my constituents,” he said.

Irmo Mayor Barry Walker Sr. said he was concerned about “truth in billing.”

“A lot of people are getting billed a $13 dollar water bill, but they’re paying $65 in sewer. Now, they are proposing they pay $100 in sewer. That’s ridiculous.”

Blue Granite Water says the flat rate sewer bill is used because they go through municipalities in order to provide sewer services, and have a flat cost to treat the water.

Asked about the impact of the meeting, Walker nodded his head in approval. He anticipates a good response from the PSC.

Fueling the backlash was a charge from a utility watchdog that Blue Granite is trying to stick its customers the utility with nearly $500,000 in costs related to moving its headquarters to elaborate new offices in downtown Greenville.

The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs has petitioned against the rate hike, which is expected to go before the PSC within the next two months. The town of Irmo has also requested an intervention in opposition of the increase.