Director discusses water and sewer problems
By Stephan Drew, Editor
He is from Blair, South Carolina but, he has called Darlington his home for the last 2 years. Charles M. Shugart, Director of Water and Sewer for the City of Darlington has made a career of fixing water and sewer problems in cities across South Carolina. For over 40 years, he has maintained, upgraded and repaired existing water/sewer systems, leaving them in better working order than he found them. He has worked in Wastewater/Water Treatment plants, supervised staffs of 40 or more employees, and handled Wastewater Collection Systems and Water Distribution Systems.
Hired by the City of Darlington in July 2021, he was stricken with COVID for 10 days that August. Shortly after he came into office, the city received a troubling Certified Letter from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) to which he was given 10 days to respond. The letter was signed 2 days before it was mailed so, he actually had about a week to answer all the items listed. The document contained a March 2021 report which listed 297 deficiencies among the 14 pump stations owned by the city. Every single pump station was not in compliance with SCDHEC standards. The deficiencies ranged from safety/emergency equipment notifications to basic lighting/wiring regulations and pumping apparatus.
By law, every pump station in South Carolina is required to have 2 pumps, both of which must be fully operational at all times. None of Darlington’s pump stations had 2 operational pumps. Some did not even have 2 pumps at all.
The document Shugart received was a 300-page letter detailing all violations. In response, he sent a 600-page letter, which listed every step which must be taken to bring all 14 pump stations into compliance. Within 90 days, all pump stations were fixed and operational. “A lot of it was patched and a lot of it was touch-and-go,” Shugart said, “ We’re having to keep it maintained but, we got it going and the city hasn’t received any fines or compliance schedules. We haven’t been taken to a hearing or anything like that, which normally does happen.” Most of the water treatment plants in Darlington were built 40 or more years ago. “Many haven’t seen a coat of paint until now,” Shugart said. He continued, “They need updated HVAC systems because water treatment chemicals need venting.”
“People think the water and sewer systems work like a light switch,” Shugart said, “turn it on and it’s supposed to work. It doesn’t always happen that way.” Occasionally the target of water/sewer complaints, Shugart understands how frustrating it can be when malfunctions occur. “People don’t take the necessary precautions or follow regulations,” he said, “sometimes, they flush entire bedsheets, towels and even shoes down the toilet.” He explained that, even if there’s a problem in one neighborhood, the cause could have occurred a mile or more away where someone has disposed of an unflushable item. “It travels a distance until it stops, clogging the sewer line and creating a big problem.” He hopes people will be more considerate of what they flush and prevent these problems in the future.
The City has a multi-phase plan for completion of the work and, at the present time, the projects are well on their way. Currently, the pump station at Allen, Farm and South Main Streets (a $1.6 million project) is underway with plans to be completed by August of this year. Work has been done on pump stations on Joe Louis Blvd., two in Ward 2, the one on Highway 34 and 3 others in Ward 3, as well as the one on Limit Street. Four pump stations have already been completed, one has been eliminated and the grant will allow for the completion of work on seven more.
Over the past 2 years, Shugart has either began or completed nearly $9 million in infrastructure projects in the City of Darlington and has now applied for a South Carolina Infrastructure Investment Program (SCIIP) Grant to completely rebuild every pump station in the city.
The next round of Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA) Grants is due in September and Shugart plans to apply by the deadline.
On a final note, Shugart asked that people not flush any items which do not disintegrate. “Toilet paper disintegrates,” he said, “flushable wipes, bed sheets, towels, feminine hygiene products and items of apparel do not.” We look forward to seeing the completion of work on the pump stations around town. With everyone working together to protect our water and sewer lines, the City of Darlington will have a cleaner and brighter future.