Columbia Water/ Sewer: Decades Of Neglect Finally Come Home To Roost

HOW’S THAT OVER-BUDGET BASEBALL STADIUM LOOKING NOW? Last March – shortly after our founding editor decided to leave downtown Columbia, S.C. for more hospitable economic climes – this website penned an article entitled “Capital City Clusterf*ck.”  In that post, we ripped local leaders – most notably “Mayorhood” Steve Benjamin –…


Last March – shortly after our founding editor decided to leave downtown Columbia, S.C. for more hospitable economic climes – this website penned an article entitled “Capital City Clusterf*ck.”  In that post, we ripped local leaders – most notably “Mayorhood” Steve Benjamin – for blowing millions of city tax dollars on baseball stadiums and speculative real estate deals while skimping on long-overdue upgrades to the city’s water and sewage system.

How bad did things get?

Just two years ago, city leaders had to pay $1.5 million on order of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cover fines and costs related to sewage spills.  Two years before that, the EPA threatened to take over Columbia’s wastewater management operations due to chronic neglect.

Has the city responded by better prioritizing this core function of government?

Of course not.  City leaders have instead continued pumping taxpayer money into totally unnecessary projects – at the expense of fixing the water and sewer system.  Just this spring, in fact, Benjamin took $4 million out of the water and sewer fund and put it into the city’s general fund – where he could spend it on his pet projects.

How’s that bet looking now?

Yeah …

About as good as Benjamin’s over-budget baseball stadium.

Benjamin’s plan was ripped months ago by city councilman Moe Baddourah, who published a letter to the editor in The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper saying it was “difficult for me to accept that a wonderful city such as ours – with its abundant resources and unlimited potential – can’t meet our most fundamental obligations.”

Baddourah added that unnecessary projects – like a controversial $71 million Bull Street redevelopment – were being funded instead of critical infrastructure.

“Our priorities are skewed,” he wrote.  “Grand pursuits such as Bull Street and the new stadium seem to take precedence over essential services that directly impact people’s quality of life.”

Indeed …

Benjamin obviously hasn’t been alone in his failure, though.  Former councilman (and convicted felon) E.W. Cromartie was a big part of the problem – same with current councilman Sam Davis, who consistently votes with Benjamin in support of wasteful projects.  You know … projects like “Innovista,” a spectacularly failed higher education boondoggle funded by city and state taxpayers to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

What should they have spent that money on?

Sources close to the city say two outdated water mains are the root cause of the problems.  One traverses Midlands Technical College, and the other traverses Trenholm Road in downtown Columbia.  Money was appropriated to fix these two main trucks, but it appears as though the cash was siphoned off.  As a result the two main trucks received incremental repairs rather than replacing the aging pipe with new, state-of-the-art materials allowing for growth and better service to existing customers (especially in times of crisis).

The other culprit?  The continued expansion of the city’s water and sewer system at the behest of a select few as opposed to the many it is intended to serve.  Access to water and sewer services helps drive real growth – residential and small business.  It’s clear at this point the city should have better managed its water and sewer resources to serve existing customers rather than allowing wealthy, politically connected developers with narrow agendas to dictate when, where and how the system was expanded.

Again, though … they didn’t.

Mother Nature this week proved the folly of Columbia’s “leaders” – and now city taxpayers must pay to clean up the mess they’ve created.  Our hope?  That this crisis will focus the attention of Columbia citizens – and that they will at long last insist that their leaders start prioritizing core functions for a change.


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GNS October 5, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Benjamin might actually profit (popularity wise) from this, he got the money out of the system already and now he can get the feds to step in and fix everything with those magical federal $$$ under the guise of an emergency.

James Scott October 5, 2015 at 4:23 pm

It’s no “guise.” It IS an emergency.

HP October 5, 2015 at 3:32 pm

it has been the honey pot and it will be for years to come. the city voters don’t care as long as “they get theirs.”
No law enforcement or other governing body cares.
So, a honeypot it will remain!

Scooter October 5, 2015 at 3:34 pm

We had rather spend money on baseball and football then use it on needed infrastrture

T-Bone Shitwater's Pimp October 5, 2015 at 3:39 pm

“Mayor Shitwater” is a great name, kudos to whoever coined it.

I still like “T-Bone” as well though; what a dilemma. Maybe we can hyphenate it? Like a progressive women’s last name:

“Mayor T-Bone-Shitwater at your service Ma’am.”

shifty henry October 5, 2015 at 3:59 pm

OK, Shifty is on board with this… it has the same rhythmic resonance as Foghorn Leghorn!

Asstounded October 5, 2015 at 7:43 pm

Thanks. First use of Mayor Shitwater was in comments at FreeTimes Severe Flooding ongoing blog. Then elsewhere here. FITS, don’you think…

James October 5, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Core function of government are sewer, water, electricity, storm drained, roads – nothing flashy and not good photo ops. But they make all the difference between third and firt world countries.
But Benjamin needs a baseball stadium, Pastides a baseball and improved football stadium and buildings for second ranked academic units like a law school and a leaking business school appropriated by shady deals with the department if justice.
Basic infrastructure is not glamerous for these ‘masters if the universe’ who with our money are building monuments for themselves.
But that too is the sign if a banan republic besides crumbling infrastructure : a class of self- serving autocratic wanna bes who pretend they work for the public but are only driven by their own greed and power.

Clean up time in Columbia ? I doubt it. It’s a game of wackamole

Opinions are like assholes October 5, 2015 at 4:41 pm

“Core function of government”

There’s a phrase that’s completely meaningless. Good job.

Bubba October 5, 2015 at 3:44 pm

I hear one if the reasons USC is closing Tuesday too is that you can’t take a shit…no water pressure!
And after that game….

Squishy123 October 5, 2015 at 7:42 pm

They’re bringing in 170 port-a-potties for students to use. So you can take a shit, you just have to go outside.

Fred October 5, 2015 at 9:20 pm

You can walk to Osborne and go into the second floor bathroom and leave a steaming, stinking, putrid piece of shit in there.

Crackerjoe October 5, 2015 at 9:23 pm

Go into the new law school or the Arnold School of Health -that what the homeless use – much nicer toilets, softer paper and warmer.

Squishy123 October 5, 2015 at 10:12 pm

I wonder how that works considering the new law school is little more than a metal skeleton at the moment.

Prye October 5, 2015 at 3:49 pm

There is only so much perfume you can drizzle on a stinking steaming turd….

The Colonel October 5, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Finally a worthwhile bitch about the flood.

Storm water runoff problems will only increase in the future due to all of the hardscaping and a failure to develop a coherent drainage plan. Gills creek flood during a normal rain now and it won’t get better. The creek that drains Five Points flooded last Thursday, a week before Floodmageddon or what ever stupid name they come up with.

TheyDeserveContempt October 6, 2015 at 3:11 am

Columbia officials have Known For Years that gills Creek is insufficient to drain surrounding area. Hope all these folks with no flood insurance will seek to sue Mayors Dough Boy and Shitwater.

FucYouToo October 6, 2015 at 3:12 am

And their Whore Water Lawyer… Cat killer.

sparklecity October 6, 2015 at 8:41 am

More paved parking lots = less adsorption of water = more flooding.
Granted, when the soil is saturated that is not a big factor but during quick heavy thunder storms (like in the summer) that is a big reason for areas flooded due to flash flooding that were not flooded in the past
When this is brought up, hard right wingnut conservatives tell you STFU but it is one big reason for flooding in many areas that used to not flood – that and just the plain simple fact that there are more people living in areas that are more conducive to causation of flooding either by contributing to it by ill advised landscaping or living in the path of floods were they were not common in the past.
“Coherent Plans”??? Give me a fucking break!!!
******Coherent plans on ANYTHING are not part of the Great State of South Carolina’s mindset among the citizens and goes double concerning politicians******
Planning isn’t sexy or a way to get votes when you are kissing Tea Baggers or developers asses.
Civil engineers have been warning about this shit for years….and the “leaders” pay it lip service
Sadly, you reap what you sow

Terence October 5, 2015 at 4:02 pm

I think we should have a huge tax cut now, defund the government in all social services, education and science – only then will the ‘invisible’ market forces liberated from government’s regulation provide us private roads ( u pay when you drive), private sewers ( u pay when you shit) and private electrical services (u pay or we cut) – only mandatory community service: church and football.

Rocky Verdad October 5, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Let’s drop this whole subject – it just attracts you know who when we talk about sewage.

TroubleBaby October 5, 2015 at 4:55 pm

“He who shall not be named”

Waverunning October 5, 2015 at 4:14 pm

All the $$$$ that should have been used for infrastructure going to a fucking baseball shrine to Benjamin. Hope they can house the homeless and everyone else going without in that stadium come next winter, the next hurricane, the next flood event. The priorities around here are all fucked up, and Rednexington County is in the same boat with all the money it spends on more and more ballfields and sports complexes. Roads be damned–let’s play ball!!

CorruptionInColumbia October 5, 2015 at 4:35 pm

X 1,000,000,000,000!!!!!

Tazmaniac October 5, 2015 at 5:05 pm

I wonder how they find idiots to put their name on the permits. The city doesn’t have to worry to bad because there is little chance the Feds will step in and punish a Democrat run city until turds are running past the Statehouse or people drop dead after drinking the water.

Sic Semper Tyrannis October 5, 2015 at 5:40 pm

The turds are in the statehouse , not outside.

josephazar October 5, 2015 at 6:59 pm

But Hey! We got a baseball stadium!!!!

YouWontPostThis October 5, 2015 at 7:33 pm

Trunks, you bumbling moron, TRUNKS, not “trucks”. They are called trunk lines. If you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, at least take accurate notes.

CNSYD October 5, 2015 at 7:56 pm

You uncovered Columbia’s problem. They get water from trucks in lieu of trunks. You can’t let Folks handle anything that is even slightly technical.

TontoBubbaGoldstein October 5, 2015 at 10:15 pm

Trunks, you bumbling moron, TRUNKS, not “trucks”. They are called trunk lines. If you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, at least take accurate notes.

Someone funked up.

TroubleBaby October 5, 2015 at 10:51 pm Reply
Squishy123 October 5, 2015 at 7:41 pm

Look at it from T-Bone’s perspective, what would you rather be named after… Steve Benjamin Field or Steve Benjamin Lift Station.

Pete October 5, 2015 at 9:17 pm

This ‘ mini-katrina’ event will have the same playbook. Watch for the outa state sharks coming in here for the FEMA $ – watch local politicians gorge on the federal projects and at end: same old sobs running the show.

Two blind mice October 5, 2015 at 9:43 pm

“the EPA threatened to take over Columbia’s wastewater management operations due to chronic neglect.”

Ha! I think I’ll take orange water over shit water if given a choice.

CorruptionInColumbia October 5, 2015 at 9:59 pm

Tameika Isaac-Devine thinks her and her fellow councilroaches deserve a raise in (over the table) salary. No doubt their excellent stewardship over the water systems proves that and there will be little if any resistance to this idea.

Mandingo October 5, 2015 at 10:16 pm

Will, it is clear that you are incapable of reporting any story without resorting to race baiting. For the record, the neglect of the City’s water and sewer systems occurred long before Steve Benjamin became mayor. Bob Coble was mayor from 1990 -2010. In that 20 year period, Mayor Coble undertook such downtown revitalization projects as the Gervais Street Landscaping, a new Columbia Museum of Art, Main Street Landscaping, Three Rivers Gateway, EdVenture, Canal Side and Columbia Convention Center. Mayor Coble and City Counsel also gave several developers tax breaks/incentives for buildings such as the Meridian, First Citizens and Sheraton.

During Mayor Coble’s tenure, the population for the City of Columbia grew by 30 %, yet no infrastructure projects, such as water & sewer, were undertaken, despite studies which reflected the need to upgrade and modernize the water and sewer system.

Mayor Coble’s predecessor was T. Patton Adams, who served on City Counsel (at large) from 1976-1986 and Mayor from 1986 -1990. During his tenure Mayor Adams oversaw such projects as Memorial Park, Riverfront Park and Sydney Park (now known as Finlay Park). No major water, sewer infrastructure projects were undertaken during the 4 year term of Mayor Adams.

Mayor Adams was preceded by Kirkman Finlay, who also served on City Council from 1974 -1978 and Mayor from 1978-1986. During Mayor Finlay’s tenure, he oversaw such projects as the Palmetto Center, Koger Center, Congaree Vista, Wheeler Hill and Sidney Park. No water/sewer infrastructure projects occurred during Mayor Finlay’s 8 year tenure.

The point is, Will, that water and sewer infrastructure has not been a priority for numerous mayoral administrations before Mayor Benjamin’s. I guess you were to damn lazy to fully research the issue. Instead, you took the easy way out by reducing this serious issue to race, as that appeals to the uneducated, uninformed, racist who troll your website and gladly accept your pathetic, self-righteous, libertarian, racist rants as the absolute truth.

This website has been on a downward spiral for sometime now and your choosing sensationalism and race baiting is the root cause. I am done wasting my time with you and your useless website.

Mandingo October 5, 2015 at 10:21 pm

“…too damn lazy… “

#blackwarriorlivesmatter October 5, 2015 at 10:49 pm

“Will, it is clear that you are incapable of reporting any story without resorting to race baiting.”….says the man with “Mandingo” as his nom de plume…lol

The rest is TL;DR

Mandingo October 5, 2015 at 11:15 pm

The name honors my ancestors from West Africa who were Mandingos from the Niger Valley region. You on the other have no cultural basis for your “nom de plume” “blackwarriorlivesmatter”. In fact, I seriously doubt that you are an African American, rather just another of the stupid, ignorant , racist redneck that troll this site.

Ignorance is no excuse for not knowing the truth. You are exactly the kind of individual I referenced in my prior post. Thanks for making my point.


Old RC lawyer October 6, 2015 at 7:44 am

Bob Coble needs to man up and admit he permitted the gutting of the Water Department money for years and years in order to appease E.W. Cromatie’s voter base. It’s not race baiting if it is a fact. Coble saw his pals Frannie Heizer and Jim Papadea get cast by the wayside and he just kept playing from the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain playbook. However, Bob’s defense that his number one adviser and mentor, Jean Hoefer Toal approved just about everything he did politically. Let’s see how that is going to work out for him in the long run.

Mandingo October 6, 2015 at 10:42 am

How do you know that Coble gutted water and sewer depts to appease Cromartie’s voter base? Your statement is utterly ridiculous and void of any factual basis. Assuming arguendo that your statement is true, why would Cromartie’s constituents be against improvements to a water and sewer system they use and benefit from? Furthermore, under the city’s form of government, Cromartie is just one member of city council and any decision on water/sewer infrastructure required a full, up or down vote by city council. One council member could not derail or prevent water/sewer infrastructure improvements or cause the diversion of monies earmarked for such projects. You simply invent lies and untruths to make the failure to address the city’s water and sewer about race, when in fact, the neglect has gone on for decades covering the mayoral administrations of Finlay, Adams, Coble and Benjamin along with the various city council members during the aforementioned administrations. To cite Mayor Benjamin, Sam Davis and E.W. Cromartie as the cause of city’ current water/sewer infrastructure problem ignores the historical facts and truths on this issue and amounts to nothing more than race baiting.

Marge October 5, 2015 at 10:56 pm

No sewer, no water, no electricity?
Let them eat cake !!!!

scotty October 6, 2015 at 11:00 am

The terrible part is the voters in the city will reelect the corrupt Benjahood and his fellow travelers and the internal transfer will continue. WTF it is only death, misery and compared to a baseball park it is insignificant

ebony October 6, 2015 at 4:40 pm

It’s sad but black folks will go for anything.

City of Columbia SUCKS! October 6, 2015 at 6:40 pm

The city of Columbia has been and will always be run by a bunch of incompetent, thuggish, liberal FOOLS!! From T-bone Benjamin, to federal investigation Devine, to the city manager who interfered with the Lonnie Randolph arrest. Water and sewer money diverted to the general fund only to be squandered. You foolish people deserve every damn thing you get! Better keep an eye on that FEMA money!

ebony October 6, 2015 at 10:59 pm

You are quite wrong re: Dr. Randolph. A white guy would not have been arrested in the first place.


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