A lawsuit filed by the Friends of the Edisto against Walther Farms and the S.C. Department Health and Environmental Control has been settled.
The Friends announced on Tuesday that a compromise has been reached regarding its challenge of SCDHEC's approval of a water withdrawal registration for the Windsor potato farm. The farm's registration was OK'd in April 2013 to withdraw up to 805 million gallons of water from the Edisto River.
According to court documents, Walther Farms has agreed to a variety of terms including cutting its initial surface water withdrawal registration in half.
The agreement also states that the farm will withdraw its second pending surface water withdrawal registration application for its Wiley Fork Farm, located at the Aiken and Barnwell County line, and only use ground water for that site for a year.
The agreement also states that the farm will install a stream flow gauge in the South Fork Edisto River, plant a natural buffer at the intake point to abate storm water runoff, maintain a combined 560 acres of forested and vegetative buffers on the farm and submit a contingency plan for handling periods of reduced stream flow.
The Friends have also agreed to refrain from taking any further legal actions that would delay the farm from installing wells for irrigation purposes or from planting crops in the coming months.
In a released statement, Friends' President Tim Rogers said Walther Farms took the initiative to approach his organization seeking a compromise settlement several weeks ago. He said each concession was positive, important and a product of “hard negotiations.”
“They (Walther Farms) have pledged to be good neighbors and work with their neighbors to help conserve our precious natural resources,” Rogers said. “Trust takes time to build. But I have become convinced of their sincerity, and I am impressed by their professional skills. Time will tell, but I will make the effort to give them the benefit of the doubt.”
Rogers said the lawsuit was filed to challenge the state laws that prevented public notice and “to have input on the fundamental issue of appropriation of the precious waters of the Edisto River.” Rogers stated that they will continue to call for reform in state laws to better protect South Carolina's rivers.
“Now it is time for the next phase, the next chapter,” Rogers stated in his release. “(Friends of the Edisto) will continue to work to provide leadership. We can, and we must, find ways to preserve our Edisto legacy for our children and future generations. Working together, we can make a difference.”
According to a release from Walther Farms, it has proposed approximately $500,000 worth of changes to its initial irrigation plans.
Walther Farms CEO Jason Walther said his family makes careful decisions based on their mission “to promote sustainable excellence” as they work with their customers as well as the community and the environment. He said the community backlash affected them personally, and they wanted to take the necessary steps to address residents' concerns.
“We believe in open, honest communication and value the importance of having all parties engaged in conversation,” said Walther. “Our family understands and appreciates the concerns expressed and wants to help demonstrate our commitment to working tighter as friends to preserve South Carolina's natural resources now and for future generations.”
Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va., and a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College.