Santee Cooper says it won't maintain Lake Busbee much longer, even with its uncertain fate

Lake Busbee on Sept. 20, 2017. (WPDE)

People in Conway, and across the area, are concerned about the future of Lake Busbee.

Some Conway residents said during a meeting on Monday that Santee Cooper needs to do something about the hazards recently reported by the South Carolina Department of Environmental and Control (DHEC).

But, Santee Cooper spokesperson Susan Mungo says the company never agreed to address those issues if someone like the City of Conway was to take control of the man-made lake.

"Our plan has always been to return it to its natural state as soon as possible if there are no interested parties in taking it over," explained Mungo.

Mungo says they've done yearly independent water and sediment testing of the lake and those results meets EPA guidelines for the lake to stay the way it is, or return to the wetland state it was in nearly 50 years ago.

Even though DHEC says there are hazardous materials and no fishing, swimming or boating is allowed. Mungo says their tests show there is no risk to human health or the environment if Lake Busbee is left the way it is.

"EPA says as long as it's left in the state that it's in then it's fine," said Mungo. "If it is to be turned into something that has never been, which is as a recreational lake, then whoever takes that over would need to look into permitting or what needed to be done to turn it into a recreational lake."

Related: Coastal Carolina University professor proposes plan to keep Lake Busbee afloat

Conway city leaders have said if they took over Lake Busbee they wanted it to be for recreational use.

But, Adam Emrick, the city's interim administrator, says it wasn't until DHEC's findings of arsenic and copper in the laken bed a couple months ago that the city realized it wouldn't be allowed to use the lake for that purpose.

"I do not believe that Santee Cooper ever told the city anything about the future use or restriction of use of Lake Busbee until the contaminants were disclosed as part of the DHEC approved closure plan," said Emrick, in a statement to ABC 15 News.

Ever since the Grainger Power Plant shut down in 2012, Santee Cooper has continued to pump water into the lake to maintain it. Mungo says, between pumping in water and maintaining the grass around the area, it costs them about $100,000 a year. She says that's money they don't want to spend much longer.

"We have tried very hard to work with interested stakeholders to allow them some time to figure out what they can do moving forward," she said.

She wouldn't give an exact timeline for when they would stop pumping in water.

Related: Lake Busbee's future in question with power plant coming down

Emrick says Santee Cooper hasn't made any promises to fix the lake so the city can use it for recreation, but he believes Santee Cooper should step up.

"The concern of the city is that Santee Cooper is doing the bare minimum and that DHEC has accepted the bare minimum and that neither are considering the long term health of the city of Conway, both physical and economical health in so doing," he said.

No decision has been made yet by the city about taking over the lake.

"We are giving it as much thought as we possibly can, to make sure that all voices are considered and all benefits and liabilities are weighed," said Emrick. "While there is no set time table, we do understand that Santee Cooper would like an answer on the Lake soon and we hope to accommodate that request."

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