Wildlife and Habitat Conservation

Arabella Farm

Special places require special consideration, and Arabella Farm—a Pickens County wedding venue located along Highway 11—is right in the middle of one of the Upstate's most special natural areas. The area's specialness is not conceptual or abstract. Rather, this area is special because it is utilized extensively by fishermen, hikers, birders and lovers of the outdoors. People in this rural part of the Upstate take land stewardship very seriously, and that is why the ongoing pollution from the event venue must be addressed.
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Case Background

Since 2017, hundreds of unlawful discharges of sediment-laden stormwater originating from Arabella Farm have flowed directly into adjacent streams and downstream into the Eastatoe River, Little Eastatoe Creek and Lake Keowee, clogging and degrading valuable water resources that support the area’s trout population and related recreational activities.

On April 6, 2020, on behalf of Upstate ForeverSouth Carolina Trout Unlimited and Naturaland Trust, we took legal action against the owners and operators of the site over violations of the Clean Water Act and related property and environmental damage.

Large quantities of sediment emanating from the site have settled onto properties owned by Naturaland Trust, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Greenville. The affected properties were acquired by Naturaland Trust because of their significant environmental values, and the properties are protected in perpetuity by a conservation easement, held by Upstate Forever, that is designed to ensure protection of the important natural resources contained on the site.


Significantly, despite more than a dozen site visits and the attempted imposition of corrective action from multiple regulatory agencies, downstream impacts have been extensive and continue to accrue, the groups allege.

Why It's Important

“This site is one of the most egregious, long-lasting examples of stormwater mismanagement that I’ve seen in my career, and all the resulting damage has occurred in an area of the highest recreational and environmental value,” said SCELP Upstate Director Michael Corley.

Greg Placone, Vice-Chair of South Carolina Trout Unlimited and President of the Mountain Bridge Chapter of Trout Unlimited, said: “The Eastatoe River is a scenic, natural wonder on public land, and Trout Unlimited members have volunteered thousands of hours to preserve and protect that coldwater resource for all to use and enjoy. Arabella Farm’s owners blatantly disregarded the law by causing silt to dump into the Eastatoe and Little Eastatoe Creek. Without this litigation, these destructive actions would leave us, the public, to clean up their mess and repair the damage they caused in order to return the Eastatoe and Little Eastatoe Creek to their rightful place as top-tier trout habitats. Unfortunately, this litigation also brings to light a troubling trend of careless developers. The Arabella Farm landowners’ abuse of the so-called ‘agricultural use’ exemption is the latest, and most detrimental, occurrence in a pattern of sidestepping the stormwater permitting laws in this state, abuses which collectively cause untold harm to our state’s rivers and fisheries. Filing this litigation underscores that Trout Unlimited will stand-up for public land and fight to preserve, protect and restore South Carolina’s precious coldwater resources.”

Mac Stone, Executive Director of Naturaland Trust, said: "Naturaland Trust protected this forest and its headwater streams for the benefit of the public. Its clean water flows into a trout fishing stream and public drinking supply. As the owners and stewards of this natural resource, we feel an obligation to protect it from ongoing pollution."

Andrea Cooper, Upstate Forever Executive Director, said: “Safeguarding water quality is at the core of Upstate Forever’s mission. As custodians of the conservation values of the impacted eased property, it is our responsibility to ensure that its natural resources are protected.”

Update

Our Clean Water Act suit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in Greenville on March 30, 2021 on dubious procedural grounds.

The dismissal was particularly troubling in its hobbling of citizens' rights to hold such polluters accountable. On April 30, 2021, we filed a notice of appeal on behalf of Upstate Forever, South Carolina Trout Unlimited and Naturaland Trust.

On May 5, 2022, just over one year after appealing the District Court's dismissal of our Clean Water Act citizens' suit, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit heard oral argument in Richmond, Virginia. Our appeal challenged the District Court's ruling that DHEC's private and wholly insufficient enforcement measures can prevent our clients from securing cleanup and restoration from Arabella Farm's repeated dumping of literal tons of sediment into a critical tributary of the Eastatoe River - egregious violations of the Clean Water Act.

We asked the Court of Appeals to reserve the dismissal on grounds that the private letter sent by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control merely alleging a violation "commenced" an administrative enforcement action against Arabella Farm cannot bar our lawsuit, given the complete lack of any public notice and participation protections. Because such a letter cannot "commence" an action and because of the unresolved, unpermitted and illegal sedimentation in the river, we urged the Court of Appeals during oral argument to rule that South Carolina's inadequate enforcement activity cannot bar our lawsuit.

On July 20, 2022, the Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal, giving our clients a path forward to hold the owners of Arabella Farm accountable for cleaning up the damage their carelessness caused to this beloved area of the Upstate.



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