Lake Busbee to return to wetlands, native species

Lake Busbee, an industrial cooling pond built in the 1960s, will return to wetlands planted with native species.
Lake Busbee, an industrial cooling pond built in the 1960s, will return to wetlands planted with native species. jlee@thesunnews.com

After an extensive review of options, the City of Conway and Santee Cooper have agreed to allow Lake Busbee, an industrial cooling pond built in the 1960s, to return to wetlands planted with native species.

The Conway City Council cemented that decision today with a vote against taking ownership of the cooling pond.

Lake Busbee was built to support electricity generation at the Grainger Generating Station, which Santee Cooper closed in 2012 and later imploded its smoke stacks.

Santee Cooper and Conway officials have been discussing alternatives to Santee Cooper operating the pond, which is contaminated with pollutants including arsenic that have led to the prohibition of fishing, swimming or kayaking in it.

Santee Cooper has continued pumping water into Lake Busbee, while Conway officials began exploring options for its future. Santee Cooper offered to give Conway ownership of the lake and the pump and piping system that keeps it full.

“With Santee Cooper’s offer to transfer title of Busbee to the city to maintain it as a water body, the Conway City Council has weighed cost versus benefit, risk versus utility, and responsibility versus the value of the lake as a recreational amenity, time and time again,” said Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy in a release. “After months of reviewing reports, deliberation and receipt of public input, our decision is to forego the gift of Lake Busbee, understanding that it will return to its natural state as wetlands.

“Santee Cooper and the City of Conway will continue to work cooperatively to ensure proper maintenance of the property, in promotion of the growth of indigenous ‘wetlands’ plantings, and in public access to the popular walking trail on the lake’s perimeter. We are committed to making the transition as aesthetically pleasant as can be. We look forward also to partnering in a development plan for the former Grainger Steam Plant site that sits adjacent to Conway’s historic downtown, and on a defining major thoroughfare. This property offers tremendous opportunity for all.”

Santee Cooper will stop pumping water into the pond this month. Depending on rainfall and other weather conditions, it is estimated to take about three months to draw down the pond, and then the site will be prepared for planting by late 2018. Santee Cooper plans to plant tree seedlings that will match nearby wetlands, such as bald cypress and swamp tupelo.

“Santee Cooper cannot justify charging customers to continue operating Lake Busbee without a business need for it,” said Pamela Williams, senior vice president of corporate services, in the release. “We are grateful that the Mayor and other Conway leaders spent the time and effort to consider whether they could take over the lake and understand their decision against doing so. Moving forward, Santee Cooper is committed to returning this property to a wetland area that the City will be happy with.”

All work will proceed with appropriate state and federal agency approvals in place. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has already approved a closure plan for the pond that allows it to return to wetlands.

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin

Christian Boschult: 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian