No matter what the dispute is about, each side thinks they are right and the other is wrong.
That's especially true where the environment is concerned, which is why the Patriot's Lake project is so controversial. By damming the Tyger River and Fairforest Creek, project supporters want to create a 6,500-acre lake they envision as a regional water supply as well as a source of hydroelectric power and a recreational area that would promote economic development. In the process, some 3,000 acres of public lands in the Sumter National Forest would be flooded.
Environmental groups have opposed the project from the beginning. They say the lake will destroy “a free flowing river ecosystem and habitat for thousands of plants and animals, including some endangered species.”
William Jeter has tirelessly promoted the project since its inception in 2003, appealing to civic groups, lawmakers and other government officials for their support. Jeter is as passionate about Patriot's Lake as most parents are about their children. He wants to see the project become reality - not necessarily in his lifetime, but perhaps in his children's or grandchildren's.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a “concept study” of the project last year and sent a draft version of the report to county officials in July. On Jan. 4, the environmental groups who oppose the lake released a statement saying the Corps of Engineers study concluded that it is not justified economically and the dam creating it would sit atop two earthquake faults.
Both Jeter and county supervisor Donnie Betenbaugh have refuted those claims, saying the study didn't take into account the economic “ripple effect” the lake would have on the community and that lakes and dams throughout South Carolina and the rest of the country are built on or near earthquake faults.
They say the study should also have looked at the county's water needs beyond the next 25-30 years and focused on the next 50 years.
Jeter was upset by the premature release of information from the study, which he says is part of a continuing effort by the environmental groups to kill the lake project.
“They've tried to circumvent the process at every turn,” he said last week.
He's got a point. By releasing their statement first, they put Jeter on the defensive, forcing him to respond to their claims, regardless of whether or not they are true.
Jeter also blamed Fourth District Rep. Bob Inglis for allowing the opposition forces to see the study before the county had a chance to complete its review.
Inglis, however, took the side of government watchdog, saying he allowed Dennis Chamberlain, the attorney for the Sierra Club, to see the report because it was financed by public funds.
“If public funds are used to produce a report the public has a right to see that report,” he said.
Inglis doesn't support the Patriot's Lake project. Instead, he has proposed developing the area around John D. Long Lake - if the county can get the land from the state.
Meanwhile, the county plans to conduct its own study of Patriot's Lake to analyze all of the issues involved with the project.
“We need somebody that can actually just look into it, dive into it and give us a good full-blown study,” Betenbaugh said.
Chamberlain said it's “quite obvious” why the county is objecting to the findings of the report.
“Although proponents originally claimed the project would provide water, electricity and economic growth to Union County, the real benefactors would be a few private land owners and developers who envision the creation of lakefront resort developments made possible with public tax dollars and the transfer of public lands to benefit a few private citizens,” he said. “This dam project is dead and should be put to rest.”
Not if Jeter has his way.
“This isn't the end, it's the beginning of Patriot's Lake,” he told Union Rotary Club members last week.
Amen to that.