Owner Avoids Criminal Charges in Septic Mess
After four months of investigation, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced Thursday (May 14) it would not pursue criminal charges against a Bluffton, S.C., campground that has had septic tank issues near the headwaters of the May River.
The area will be closed to shellfishing when the season reopens in September. Beds four miles downstream from the headwaters also will be closed for two weeks whenever it rains more than 1.1 inches, according to the Hilton Head Island Packet.
The closures are based on three years of water-quality monitoring that indicate bacteria levels exceed state and federal standards, making oysters there unsafe to eat.
The bacteria is fecal coliform, which comes from human and animal waste.
As state and local officials searched for potential sources of the pollution, DHEC received complaints of sewage overflows and improper disposal methods at the Stoney Crest Campground located near Stoney Creek, which feeds into the river's headwaters. The agency began investigating in January.
"The investigation has concluded, and there is no criminal action," Russell Berry of DHEC's Beaufort office said at a May River committee meeting Thursday. "We haven't found an obvious discharge."
As recently as April 15, raw sewage pooled on the campground's drain field in a 100-foot-wide area, according to state officials. DHEC ordered property managers to clean it up. The tanks were pumped, and a new drain field was installed.
None of the sewage discharged into the May," Berry said.
"We had everything taken care of when they asked us," said Sylvia Ronquest, property manager at the campground. "I'm glad everything is over with."
Berry said the campground continues to be inspected weekly. The case has now become a civil matter, which DHEC could still pursue, he said.
DHEC spokesman Thom Berry said that could mean if violations occur in the future the agency could issue fines or corrective orders.
Blaine Lyons, environmental health director of DHEC's Beaufort office, said officials are visiting the campground weekly to ensure its waste disposal system is not operating over capacity and that any changes or malfunctions are reported.
"That's not required by existing regulations," Lyons said. "But we can place additional requirements on their permit if actions are found that warrant it … because of the environmental sensitivity of the area."