A Satisfying David and Goliath Story About Dirty Water in South Carolina

Photo: John Bazemore (AP Photo)

Jenkinsville Water Co. picked the wrong one.

On March 28, Jenkinsville Water Co., through their lawyers at Goodwyn Law Firm, sent a cease and desist letter to Bertha Goins, accusing her of making “false and misleading statements” to the press. Goins has been critical of JWC’s operations going on four years. A series of op-eds and comments in the Independent Voice and a recent series on failing small-town utilities companies by The State, one of South Carolina’s largest newspapers, finally drew a reaction from JWC.

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“If you continue to make such false and defamatory statements, I have been instructed to take all legal steps to enforce my client’s rights, including filing suit against you, for injunctive relief, slander, and defamation, seeking all damages allowed by law,” the letter, which was reported by The State on Monday, read.

Companies issue cease and desist letters and threaten lawsuits against average citizens all the time as a lazy form of intimidation. Unfortunately for JWC, Goins was the wrong one to step to.

For one, Goins sits on the Fairfield County Council, where she serves as vice chairman, so she’s a public figure. She was formerly a member of the JWC board and knows exactly how the sausage is made—according to the Independent Voice, she lost re-election in 2015 after publicly criticizing the board for denying a request for increasing the water supply for a local campground.

“When I first read this letter, I was kind of in shock,’’ Goins told The State. “I live here and the water quality matters, the development of the county matters. To tell me to shut up about it, you are just like threatening me. If I don’t hush, then you are going to sue me? Then what’s next? What else will you do to me to shut my mouth?’’

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Not that “water supply for a local campground” didn’t give it away, but this is all extremely local politics. Greg Ginyard is the head of JWC, giving him a significant amount of influence in a county of just over 23,000 people. It doesn’t hurt, and probably won’t surprise you to find out, that Ginyard is also the mayor of Jenkinsville. Go figure! (Speaking with The State, Ginyard’s lawyer denied the claims of dirty water, while Ginyard told the paper he merely had the letter sent to Goins to remind her “not to make up lies.”)

Following her 2015 election loss, Goins brought up the campground issue once more, telling the observers on hand and the board that she believed, “to deny somebody just so we can push or force somebody out is an injustice,” per the Voice. Ginyard responded to Goins’ comments following the election by responding in part, “We can’t be bullied into ‘give me what I want or I’ll sue.’”

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Fast forward four years, and now Ginyard, sick of Goins trashing his chief source of power, seems to have changed his mind on the tactic.

Since she departed the board, Goins has been vocal about the poor water quality and infrastructure, writing letters to the editor in her local paper to complain about JWC’s antiquated pipes system and slow response to crises, as well as sedimentary build-up.

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In 2012, JWC’s water system was infected with E. coli and the company waited four days to tell customers, earning it a $14,000 fine from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. Additionally, the department has undertaken four enforcement cases against JWC since 2010, per The State, including a 2017 complaint stemming from the fact that a filter designed to block radioactivity in the water was malfunctioning and allowing high amounts of uranium into the system.

This is all in addition to the company being the polar opposite of transparent with its own members, let alone its customers—on March 28, JWC sent a letter to customers saying they need not worry about “incomplete and sometimes erroneous reporting by a few local media outlets.’’

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In 2013, JWC’s board opted against consolidating with a regional water authority, though Goins has consistently voiced displeasure over JWC’s ongoing refusal to join a regional company in favor of maintaining its grip on the rural town. Meanwhile, in 2018, Ginyard supported an attempt to annex 143 homes to quadruple the town’s borders and its the tax base, so as to “spur economic development.”

That cash grab was blocked by none other than Bertha Goins.

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