PICKENS COUNTY – After voting unanimously to reject a relicensing agreement that would determine access to water in Lake Keowee for the next 40 years, members of the Pickens County Council had a change of heart.
The council voted to reconsider and approve the Keowee-Toxaway Stakeholder Relicensing Agreement.
The agreement is a result of work by Duke Energy and 32 stakeholders since 2009 in the process for Duke’s application for relicensing for the Keowee-Toxaway project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERG).
Council members voted 6-0 to oppose the agreement last month, saying language in the agreement did not allow for new intakes in the lake.
Duke Energy spokeswoman Lisa Hoffmann said recently the stakeholder committee “removed the problematic language” to address the concern by Pickens officials that it could be “perceived as a barrier for new public water supply intakes on Lake Keowee.”
Monday night, council voted 4-2 to approve the agreement. Chairman Neil Smith and Councilman Trey Whitehurst opposed.
The motion to reconsider the vote was made by Randy Crenshaw and passed 5-1 (Whitehurst opposed).
“This body sent a very clear message last month that we have an issue with being told how to handle our water,” Council member Jennifer Willis said. “We sent that message to Duke and Duke heard us loud and clear.
“Duke has addressed the problem that was the biggest concern for this council and as such, in order to move this process forward, I am in favor of it,” she said.
Whitehurst said he opposed the vote because he did not feel comfortable with the process.
“They’ve come back and said they’ve taken that (language) out, which they said they couldn’t do, and asking us to give them approval for this thing so they can look good in front of FERG,” Whitehurst said. “I’m sorry, but I can’t do that.”
Whitehurst said this is going to be a huge issue in the years to come.
“This is a 40 year plan,” Whitehurst said. “Water is going to be a major issue over the next 40 years. Duke worked with Greenville very diligently to force us to buy water from Greenville and never have access to our water on our property.”
The current 50-year license expires in August 2016. Art Holbrooks, the county’s representative working on the agreement, said Duke and stakeholders are seeking a 40-year license renewal.
Jen Huff, project director for Keowee-Toxaway relicensing, said in May that one of the biggest changes in the proposed new agreement is that Duke agrees not to draw down Lake Keowee lower than 10 feet below full stage.
Currently Duke can draw down up to 25 feet below full-lake levels.
Council member Jeff Martin said he is happy with the way the agreement has recently been presented.
“What matters to me is that we have control over water intakes on our lakes,” Martin said. “I was very concerned (at our last meeting) that we wouldn’t have that access.”
Martin said now that the language is clear, it’s time to move on.
“I’m thankful that (the language) has been removed,” Martin said. “We need to move the process along. I’m troubled by the process, but I think it’s time to move on.”
Smith still has some hesitations, however.
“Even though the language is out, we haven’t heard definitively from Duke that they support our right to the water,” Smith said.
Stakeholders have until Nov. 29 to sign the agreement.