After fuel spill, $1.5 million secured for S.C. watershed

GREENVILLE, S.C.  — A fund of $1.5 million has been established to protect and remediate water resources in Anderson County as a result of a Clean Water Act suit brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Upstate Forever and the Savannah Riverkeeper. 

The suit was brought in response to a 2014 gasoline spill from a Kinder Morgan pipeline in Belton, South Carolina.  The funds may also be used to raise citizen awareness and participation in protecting clean water.  This establishment of this fund settles the pending litigation.

“In the aftermath of this historic spill, nothing had been done to compensate for the harm done to the community’s water resources,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “This $1.5 million fund will make it possible to benefit the local community by protecting and improving the water resources in the Savannah watershed where this spill occurred.”

In December of 2014, a local resident discovered the pipeline spill on Lewis Road near Belton.  The spill discharged at least 369,000 gallons of gasoline, and the petroleum pollution entered the nearby creek which flows through Anderson and Abbeville Counties into Broadway Lake, Lake Secession, and the Savannah River.  In 2016, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed suit for Upstate Forever and the Savannah Riverkeeper due to the violation of the Clean Water Act by the petroleum pollution of the Savannah River tributary.

For the last four years, the conservation groups have repeatedly met with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to urge it to require further steps to remediate the spill, and they have provided DHEC with scientific evaluations of further remediation that needs to be done.  Kinder Morgan estimates that it has spent $17 million in required remediation efforts, and remediation at the site will continue, under supervision by DHEC and subject to public review.

“We stepped in to protect these important water resources and the communities that depend upon them,” said Andrea Cooper, executive director of Upstate Forever.  “This fund will be administered with input from Anderson County to restore and protect the waters of this important watershed.”

To enforce the Clean Water Act, the conservation groups filed suit in U.S. District Court and prevailed in an appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  When Kinder Morgan took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the conservation groups filed a brief before the Supreme Court, and the Court ultimately agreed that the Clean Water Act applies to water pollution that flows through groundwater, like the pollution at the Belton pipeline spill.  The litigation is currently pending in the Court of Appeals.

“The Savannah River is one of the nation’s most important river systems,” said Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper. “This litigation and this settlement make clear that when a pipeline breaks and the Savannah watershed is contaminated, the polluter will be held accountable.”

The $1.5 million will be placed in an account at the Foothills Community Foundation.  It will be administered by Upstate Forever and the Savannah Riverkeeper to support projects that protect or restore water quality as well as for projects that increase citizen awareness of and participation in water quality issues throughout Anderson County.  Projects in other nearby portions of the Savannah River watershed may also be funded.  The conservation groups will solicit input from Anderson County and the local community in selecting projects.

This payment will resolve the litigation and settle the Clean Water Act litigation.  Remediation of the spill site continues.

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