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Silver Bluff Road project creates problems for Gem Lakes residents while frustration grows

August 4, 2018

While progress on the Silver Bluff Road Corridor Improvement Project moves along at a snail’s pace on Aiken’s Southside, frustration is growing at a much faster rate among residents in Gem Lakes.

And it’s not just because the effort to widen the busy thoroughfare and implement other changes to make it safer is taking so long.

When it rains heavily, stormwater runoff pours into the neighborhood. Filled with orange-colored silt and debris, it creates a mess and causes a variety of other problems.

Summing up the situation, Elaine DeLuca said, “It’s horrible.”

She lives just off Silver Bluff Road on Hartwell Drive.

Water flows down her driveway and into the crawlspace beneath her home.

“In all the years I have been here, that has never happened before,” DeLuca said. “Underneath my house, it’s constantly damp now.”

A nearby median is filled with orange and white traffic barrels and pipes. It’s also a place where large puddles form and become nurseries for the offspring of mosquitoes.

There are so many of the pesky insects around that “you don’t want to go outside,” DeLuca said. “It’s like a swamp.”

The original completion date for the Silver Bluff project was Aug. 31, 2017.

Recently the South Carolina Department of Transportation, or SCDOT, and its contractor, Eagle Construction Co., reached an agreement to set a new completion date of July 31, 2019.

The revised contract also includes a financial incentive for Eagle Construction to finish quicker.

“That’s a positive move,” DeLuca said.

But she doesn’t really believe it will make much of a difference.

“All this would have been more tolerable if they had stayed on schedule, but they didn’t,” DeLuca said. “And I doubt they will even stick to the new one that they have. They are still poking along out there.”

There is a good reason, she added, why she is skeptical.

“SCDOT told me that the drainage issue in the median was going to be taken care of as soon as they got that sewer straightened out coming down here,” DeLuca said. “Either they haven’t done it or it hasn’t worked out because there is still a swamp out front.”

Other perspectives

Another Hartwell Drive resident, Ricardo San Pedro keeps a pile of sandbags beside his driveway because it has been flooded by stormwater runoff, which also has seeped into his garage.

One day, when it was particularly bad, he said, Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon provided assistance.

“He happened to be driving by,” San Pedro said. “He called the city, and the city was there within 15 minutes. They had a truck with some kind of suctioning device that removed the water.”

The stormwater runoff also is negatively impacting the ponds in the neighborhood.

“They are connected, and what flows into one eventually flows into the others,” said Bob Mell, president of the Gem Lakes Recreation Association.

The effects have been the most noticeable in the pond known in the subdivision as the Upper Lake. The silt in the runoff discolors the pond’s water, and sediment deposits are accumulating rapidly.

“About four years ago, the lake was dredged because parts of it were down to less than a foot deep because of the buildup of silt for over 20 years,” Mell said. “Since then, it’s built up again, and parts of the lake are back to being 4 inches to about a foot deep. It’s not good for the health of the lake, and it’s not good for the wildlife.”

Dal Stanley, who lives close to the Upper Pond, confirmed Mell’s assessment of its deteriorating condition and added he believes SCDOT and Eagle Construction should take action eventually to undo the damage.

“At the end of the project, I would like to them the come in and dredge out the lower end of this pond or help fund the removal of the sediment,” Stanley said. “Sometimes you can’t help some of the things that occur, but if you cause a problem, you ought to help with the cleanup.”

A determined advocate

Among Gem Lakes’ residents, Scott Flickinger is probably the most vocal critic of SCDOT and Eagle Construction. He regularly observes and documents their work. He also keeps track of the problems in the neighborhood caused by stormwater runoff and contacts the media about them.

In phone calls and emails to the Aiken Standard, he described SCDOT and Eagle Construction as “reactive rather than proactive regarding the management and control of stormwater.”

He also complained about the methods and the materials they have employed to deal with the issues.

Eagle Construction “is in one case using incorrect manmade erosion control devices and in another installing devices incorrectly,” wrote Flickinger, a former environmental consultant for projects involving the construction of interstate natural gas pipeline projects.

He also expressed concern about gullies and voids next to Silver Bluff Road that are the results of stormwater soil erosion. He believes they are potential dangers to vehicles and their drivers.

DeLuca praised Flickinger for his tenacity.

“When stuff starts happening, he comes out here and takes pictures,” she said. “I’m glad he’s staying on top of things.”

SCDOT’s response

The Aiken Standard forwarded Gem Lakes residents’ complaints to SCDOT in an email, and the agency’s District 7 engineering administrator, Kevin Gantt, wrote the following in response:

“It is our policy to address these issues directly with property owners. This allows members of our staff that are most familiar with the project, the contract and specifications to adequately assess the problem and respond.

“SCDOT is aware of the community’s growing concerns with water runoff from this project. Our local construction office continues to work diligently with the contractor, Eagle Construction, to use all the resources available in the contract to minimize the movement of sediment from disturbed areas of the project.

“We consider the local DHEC (S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control) office a partner in this effort, as we have received mostly satisfactory inspections for the duration of this project.

“Due to the project’s unforeseen delays, we have recently added quantities to the contract to assist in the contractor’s effort to address runoff and also provided increased incentives to complete the improvements as soon as possible.”

Gantt added Gem Lakes residents and others who have specific questions about the Silver Bluff Road Corridor Improvement Project should contact Bobby Usry, who is SCDOT’s resident construction engineer for Aiken County, at 803-641-7660.

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