The water at the Pleasant Meadow Missionary Baptist Church is so nasty that children aren’t permitted to wash their hands in it, let alone drink it.
The Rev. Gilbert Vaught’s own grandchildren balked at using the toilet during a recent visit, because the stains were so disgusting it appeared the bowl was full of waste.
“Water out of the ditch is better than what we have,” said Collins Gore, a deacon of the church just off Little River Neck Road.
The rust, grease and other contamination is so rancid that bathroom fixtures have been replaced twice in the last year and a water softener added.
“That bowl is four months old, and it looks like it has been in there for 10 years,” Gore said of the $400 toilet installed in the ladies room, the tank already so stained it appeared to be filled with cola.
“I said, Lord, the church can’t keep on doing that,” Gore said of the expenses.
Local officials say that water wells across the Little River Neck Road area have been contaminated by seeping septic systems for more than a decade.
The city got involved because the leaking septic tanks, although located in the county, were spilling into the Cherry Grove marsh and killing the oyster beds, said Pat Dowling, North Myrtle Beach spokesman.
And although two federal grant projects beginning in 2005 helped connect 63 county properties to the city’s water system, not everyone was included in the project.
“The problem is, it looks like we’ve been skipped over here as step-children,” Vaught said.
Free hook-up to the city’s water only was available for private residences, and churches were excluded under the federal grant guidelines, Dowling said.
Several other private property owners also were unable to meet federal guidelines and are still using contaminated wells.
“I know first-hand what it’s like when you can’t even drink water, and you’re worried about bathing in it,” Gore said.
“You put your white linens in there, it will change the color altogether,” Gore said.
Horry County Councilman Harold Worley raised the problem with fellow council members earlier this month and asked staffers to study what could be done to help residents and the church that were left out of the project.
“We’ve got to try to help those people,” Worley said. “We’ve got to do something about it, it’s not right.”
“They are drinking contaminated well water that is absolutely awful. It has rust in it … it’s just not safe for humans to drink,” Worley said.
Dowling confirmed that the city has arranged to meet with county officials next week to see what can be done for the remaining residents and church under a cost-sharing arrangement.
“There is a need for another project out there,” Dowling said.
The church can be connected to city services, but it would be a costly endeavor for the small congregation that struggles to afford $400 for a new commode.
The impact fees for water and sewer are $46 per seat. With 16 pews that fit nine people comfortably, that cost alone is more than $6,600.
Additional costs include $650 for a three-quarter inch tap fee, $400 for sewer, a meter deposit of $90 and a $25 fee to set up an account.