State, county clash over Okatie River anti-pollution efforts

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has refused to hear a challenge from Beaufort County about new state stormwater standards for reducing pollution in the Okatie River.

Beaufort County officials say the plan -- which focuses on reducing the bacterial concentration in runoff flowing in to the river rather than the total number of pollutants entering it -- will do nothing to help restore shellfishing in the Okatie.

The state's plan now moves to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for final approval consideration.

If that happens, state and county requirements on stormwater management in developments near the sensitive waterway will be in conflict.

The county's approach focuses on the total number of pollutants flowing into the river.

Beaufort stormwater utility manager Dan Ahern said the state's plan --which seeks a more than 50 percent reduction in the concentration of pollutants -- means stormwater could be merely diluted to be in compliance with state standards.

He said the county will continue to work to reduce the number of pollutants in the river, Ahern said.

Reed Armstrong of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League said Beaufort County's approach is the right one.

"DHEC is saying concentration is the guiding principle, and the county is saying it's the number of colonies in the water regardless of volume," Armstrong said. "Our view is the county has taken the correct position."

"It's a better gauge for how to reduce coliform bacteria contamination in the waterways," he said.

Armstrong said he would encourage the county to appeal the DHEC report in the state's Administrative Law Court.

DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley said the board declined to hear Beaufort county's appeal because it believes the state's approach is best for the river.

"The board did not feel (the plan) required further review," he said.