Seabrook Point resident hoping for water lines in neighborhood after recent fire

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comDecember 17, 2013 

A fire in the Seabrook Point neighborhood Friday night required an unusual response, at least by Burton Fire District standards: trucking in water to fight the blaze.

The fire at the Stagecoach Road home at about 11 p.m. required six tanker trucks to shuttle water between the home and the nearest fire hydrant, about two miles away at Whale Branch Early College High School, according to Burton Fire District Chief Harry Rountree.

Four tankers from Burton and two from the Sheldon Fire District carried nearly 36,000 gallons of water to the house fire, which took more than an hour to control. Seabrook Point is just one of two locations inside the fire district's coverage zone where tanker trucks are needed to fight fires, Rountree said, because no water lines or fire hydrants are located in the subdivision.

Seabrook Point resident Margaret Bukkosy hopes to change that, but money to make the connection could be a stumbling point.

The neighborhood's residents draw their water from wells; water lines from the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority run a few miles east of the subdivision on U.S. 21, according to Bukkosy, who worries that without a connection to BJWSA lines, the community could suffer another devastating fire.

She also thinks homeowners' insurance rates are higher because of the lack of water access. Bukkosy said the lack of hydrants costs residents more than $1,000 extra annually to insure their homes. She said neighborhoods with hydrants pay 33 percent less for insurance than those without them.

The subdivision was first developed in the 1980s, at a time when BJWSA lines stopped along U.S. 21 near Grays Hill, according to BJWSA chief technical services officer Charles Sexton. The line was extended toward -- but not all the way to -- Seabrook when Whale Branch Elementary School was built in 1999.

For the past year and a half, Bukkosy has lobbied BJWSA, Beaufort County, the Burton Fire District, and the Lowcountry Council of Government to find a way to run water service to her neighborhood.

But a solution is not as simple as one person asking for it.

BJWSA communications manager Matthew Brady said water lines could go to the neighborhood, but it would require clear support from subdivision residents, who would have to absorb the cost.

"Our policy is that any growth in our system pays for itself," he said. "We can expand, but we don't want our current customers to pay for that future growth."

Brady said BJWSA and the Beaufort County School District used the same business agreement when Whale Branch Elementary School was opened: The district paid the construction costs up front.

BJWSA also offers programs to develop plans for new water lines, Brady said, but those could take months to complete and require grants Seabrook Point wouldn't qualify for. For instance, when Dale residents became concerned about the quality of water in their wells, it took them eight months to complete a plan.

A second water line runs from U.S. 21 to Whale Branch Early College High School and along Martin Lane, according to BJWSA maps. That line runs closest to the subdivision but lacks the capacity to service the entire neighborhood.

BJWSA officials said last month the line could service some of the streets closest to the school but would have to be tied in to an extension down Seabrook Road, Bukkosy said.

Bukkosy said residents in Seabrook Point would be interested in paying for the construction of line within the neighborhood, but said it would be "wrong" for residents to pick up the tab on a mile-long stretch down Seabrook Road to connect Seabrook Point to the U.S. 21 line.

That problem could be addressed by a federal grant for as much as $500,000, which would cover installation of a line along Detour and Seabrook roads, near the neighborhood. The Lowcountry Council of Governments' community and economic director Michelle Knight said she and Beaufort County Councilman Gerald Dawson were working on such a grant application, which is due in the spring.

The grant would cover the charges to low-income homes along the roads; Seabrook Point homeowners would not be eligible. Bukkosy said homeowners in Seabrook Point received an $8,400 cost quote for water lines, but it was unclear whether that covered just the neighborhood or Seabrook Road.

Extending the line all the way to the neighborhood also requires support from at least 50 percent of households who would be connected. Beaufort County does not have a mandatory hook-up requirement for water, but it does for sewers, Bukkosy said.Local support could be problematic -- Bukkosy said a community meeting in early November was sparsely attended.

"Many of the people living around there don't have the money to afford a monthly water bill, which could be $33 at a minimum," she said. "Many of them don't want to disclose their income, either. I've handed out fliers to many of the people living there, but I'm not sure many of them understand."

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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