Efforts to protect Lake Bowen catch some residents off guard
Jul. 06, 2018
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Roger Tinsley bought a home on Lake Bowen 17 years ago as a weekend getaway for his family, and today he spends most Sundays there with his children and seven grandchildren.
He has a boat and a dock and until recently never had any problems getting the permits required of homeowners on the 1,534-acre lake.
Then in March he started replacing a few aging boards and repainting his dock.
A lake warden told him a permit was needed along with an architect's plan, which he said later cost him $1,450, before he could continue.
He was issued a cease-and-desist order that forbid him from finishing his dock until he got his permit. He was also told to remove his boat from the water.
"It took me four weeks to get (the architect's plan)," he said. "I went back and met with the warden and he said everything's in order. All you need to do is plant bushes. I said, 'No, I've got a beautiful yard and grandbabies.' I said, 'I don't want bushes.'"
He called Spartanburg Water, and he met with officials who told him he didn't need to plant bushes.
"The next day I got my permit and am back on the lake," said Tinsley, the 67-year-old owner of Auto Fleet in Spartanburg. "You shouldn't have to go to the CEO of waterworks to get that done."
Tinsley is not alone.
Neighbor Dan Hargett also has a second home on the lake. He said nearly 100 residents met recently to air their frustrations over an apparent crackdown by Spartanburg Water since a resolution was passed in January by the Spartanburg Commission of Public Works, which oversees the water system and lakes.
"One guy was trying to clean briars off his lakefront property," Hargett said. "That was denied. It's just one thing after another."
He said many were unaware of the water system's stepped up efforts to improve the lake's water quality, and they wondered how it might affect their wallets.
Designed to protect the water quality as development continues around the lake, Spartanburg Water's resolution reaffirms the permit rules for docks, seawalls and boat ramps, while promoting natural vegetation that helps to buffer the lake from stormwater runoff that contains pollutants from fertilizers and pesticides. Septic system failures can also pollute the lake.
According to the resolution, "In certain instances, Spartanburg Water may require removal of certain encroachments when the water quality of the lake or the safety and security of persons or publicly owned property is threatened or impaired.
"Where nature needs a helping hand, supplemental plantings of native species may be required to support the re-establishment of a protective buffer area and to protect or enhance lake health."
Many homes rest near what is called the 827 line — property owned by the water system between a contour elevation 827 feet above mean sea level and the water's edge, including the property beneath the lake. Normal water level elevation is 815 feet.
There are nearly 1,000 lakefront homes along 33 miles of shoreline, and the average asking price of homes for sale is nearly $400,000.
John Montgomery, chairman of the Commission of Public Works, said rules designed to protect the shoreline have been in effect and updated since the lake was built in 1960 along the South Pacolet River. It is the primary drinking water source for 200,000 Spartanburg Water customers.
The other water sources are Municipal Reservoir No. 1 and Lake Blalock.
"This is our reservoir," he said. "Spartanburg Water is in the business of providing safe water. We need to protect and maintain our buffer. We also need to be mindful of the people there."
He said the water commission is mindful of all the growth around the lakes and simply wants to cut down on the amount of pollutantion from fertilizers and pesticides entering the lake with runoff to prevent algae growth. The cleaner the lakes, the easier it is for the R.B. Simms Water Treatment Facility to treat the water that ends up being tasteless and odorless.
Montgomery said there is a new lake warden who is tasked with reminding residents of rules when altering, removing or building docks. Generally, the conversations take place when someone applies for a permit, he said.
"We're not going around looking to mess with people," Montgomery said.
As for planting shrubs and trees, he said no one is being required to do so — but they are encouraged.
"Our agenda is promoting safe water quality," he said, adding that the water system has budgeted $22 million for water infrastructure improvements.
There are three basic sizes of docks on the lake: small, medium and large.
He said about 90 percent of the docks are small, 12-by-18 feet in size, and required no architect's drawings. About 5 percent are medium docks at 24-by-28 feet, and also require no drawings be submitted, he said.
It's only for the large docks where drawings are required, Montgomery said, mainly for safety reasons to ensure that no docks protrude into the recreational areas.
Chip Simmons said he bought a lakefront home several years ago, and he can't understand why enforcement is being stepped up.
"A 900- or 1,000-square-foot dock has zero impact on water quality," he said. "Who's going to be more interested (in water quality and safety) than those who bought property?"
Several residents attended a recent commissioners meeting to air their concerns and seek answers. They were accompanied by state Rep. Josiah Magnuson, whose district includes Lake Bowen.
"I was here to help residents have a voice," Magnuson said. "I think we achieved that."
He said many were concerned about what they can and can't do with their property. He also said the rollout of the stepped-up enforcement efforts was not communicated well, even though Spartanburg Water has sent out notices to property owners.
"All government commissions need to do a more careful job to listen to citizens and provide them with the respect they deserve," Magnuson said.
Spartanburg Water spokesman Chad Lawson said a Lake Bowen citizens advisory group is being formed to address their concerns.
"Water is for drinking, recreation and economic development," he said. "We have to have everyone invested. I think they're rightfully fearful of anything that would impact that investment."
Information from: Herald-Journal, http://www.goupstate.com/