Santee Cooper planting trees at Lake Busbee
Lake Busbee is no longer a lake.
Dozens of workers with pickaxes walking through the muddy remains of the lake were hard at work Tuesday planting 60,000 tree saplings across 160 acres of land.
The hope is to turn the former 300-acre cooling pond for a local power station back into native wetlands as the trees grow and transform the property.
Crews with Santee Cooper started working Monday, planting all the tree saplings, a two-day process.. Crews of about 20 people were divided into teams, carrying satchels filled with saplings that look a lot like twigs.
“It’s going to be a nice back drop as you drive through 501 to have this natural, bald cypresses and oaks,” said Santee Cooper spokesperson Tracy Vreeland.
A crew member would use their axe to put a hole in the ground, place a foot long sapling into the ground and move on. While it only takes a few seconds to plant each sapling, the crews moved fast to plant all the saplings in timely manner. In addition, Santee Cooper had environmentalist supervisors, who Vreeland said really enjoy restoring the property.
Lake Busbee originally was a cooling pond for the Grainger Generating Station across U.S. 501 Bypass. The hot steam from the coal plant needed a place to cool, so it was sent over to the shallow lake.
“The cooling pond is no longer needed,” Vreeland said.
The power station is no longer there, and the pond is not needed. Santee Cooper determined it would be cheaper to replant the site with native trees than to maintain a lake too shallow for recreational activities.
The draining of the lake began in April after Conway declined an offer to take over the lake. Large pumps began taking water out of the lake, closing a portion of the walking path. During the draining process, wildlife continue to hunt and use the area. From the walking path, folks can see plenty of bird nests, including a bald eagle nest.
Also, alligators have been seen in the area.
The flooding from Hurricane Florence killed weeds and smaller fish when it partially refilled the lake with water. But it did not create any delays for Santee Cooper. The plan was always to start in the winter.
“Some of the land is still a little wet, but it is wetlands,” Vreeland said. “So they’re planting where they can. It’s going to be more than half of the land here.”
While the water will be turned into wetlands, the walking path will be maintained. Since the pumping of the water began, a gate closed off the end of the path, but once all the pumps are moved, the entire walkway will reopen.
“When this is all done, it’s going to be a beautiful part of 501,” Vreeland said.