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Cayce’s canyon not so grand for people who live on its rim

Cayce, SC (Paul Kirby) – There’s a Grand Canyon in Cayce that’s wide, deep, and constantly has water running through it. It’s not the mighty Colorado River mind you, but the canyon has large boulders at its bottom and like the one in Arizona, has been cut by erosion over time. The Grand Canyon in Arizona drains water from seven states. The one in Cayce drains water from 100s of homes and businesses in the Avenues straight to the Congaree.

Never heard of Cayce’s Grand Canyon, that’s okay, few have. It’s on a short part of M Avenue with just a few homes. Those most familiar with Cayce’s canyon live along its northern rim. To them it’s not grand; it’s a dangerous problem that is eating away property where they’ve lived, raised families, and peacefully existed for years. It has forced power poles to be moved that were left hanging by their wires. There’s chain-link fences sliding into it with their concrete anchors just swinging in the air. In another eight feet, it could eat a building altogether that houses a small business. For the three families that live along that rim on that side, the canyon is a big gaping deal!

How did the canyon come to be in Cayce? Good question! As far back as the 1930s, the surrounding property was farmland and flood plain. The area is close to the Congaree and rich dirt settles on the banks when flooding occurs. The land was left alone until the 1960s. The Redmond family owned it and it was just doing what floodplains do. A little stream ran through it for as long as most can remember. That little stream becomes key later.

In the ‘60s, one of the Redmonds took an interest in the tract. He decided if he hauled some dirt in, rerouted that stream, and leveled it out, he could build some houses and make a little money. That was done and the houses were built. It’s not clear if the dirt hauling or stream re-routing was done under any regulations. It was the 1960s remember. Couples bought the little houses, moved in, and began raising families.

As their children grew, they enjoyed the stream. The yards and woods behind their homes were a great place to play with no canyon in sight. It was just a little stream to float a leaf in, get your toes wet, and step over without any effort if needed. Travis Mathias remembers mowing the weeds between the stream and their yard with a riding mower after he was grown. “When my brother and I were little, it was a fun place to live. Things have changed now, and someone did something to start that,” he concluded. Eventually, the City of Cayce got dragged into this situation and it’s become a huge canyon sized issue today.

In 1991, the land changed hands to Ida Redmond after Claude Redmond died. In February of 1994, Ida sold a portion of the land to the City of Cayce for $40,000. It seemed like a bargain at the time. The good deal then became the Canyon. If they knew then what they know now, would Cayce have touched it with a ten-foot pole, probably not. The deed had limited uses attached to it, but it doesn’t look like Cayce was planning on doing much with it at the time anyway. Whatever the reason, Cayce was now the proud owner of some thick woods and a little stream. Everything seemed good to this point!

In ’95, some erosion of the stream’s bank had started. This was probably because as the watershed from the Avenues neighborhood grew, so did the amount of storm water running through the little stream. As more water ran, the banks got wider. The homeowners noted this and asked to meet with Cayce officials and the SC Department of Natural Resources. A soil scientist and Cayce’s current city manager and city planner at that time attended. Remember, this was 25 years ago, a career for some and several administrations ago.

Everyone in the group looked at the stream and talked. Later the SCDNR sent a letter to Cayce suggesting that, “Careful stormwater management planning should be incorporated to account for any changes in the runoff characteristics affecting this obviously sensitive stream.” They also said, “The Cayce Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance requirements for the streams modifications must be adhered to by city planners.” Still then, they (DNR) called it a stream. The bottom line of all this was, as more homes and businesses are built up hill from the stream, less water soaked into the ground due to roofs, roads, and anything else impermeable. This forced more water through the stream making the homeowners’ and Cayce’s problem worsen. DNR was saying watch the stream closely and be prepared to protect and manage it. It didn’t seem like anything was done after that meeting and the letter, the water, and the problem just kept flowing along.

In December of 1996, the rest of the property around Cayce’s stream was deeded to the remaining living Redmonds. About eight years later, they sold a small piece to the City of Cayce with a Limited Warranty Deed. That just means the seller granted no guarantee regarding the title but what the heck, Cayce only paid $5.00 for it anyhow.

Here’s where things really began to change. In 2005, Cayce sold some of their land to Diamond Development, LLC for $90,000. The Riverwalk was being developed and that company was planning on building Parkside Cottages near the “sensitive” stream. As a part of his project, Parkside’s developer asked for some TIFF money, a special source of government funding and the money Cayce used to build the Riverwalk. The developer would make Parkside one of the Riverwalk’s entrances. The TIFF Funds would be used to make that entrance more appealing. According to maps, he wasn’t in the designated TIFF district, so he wasn’t contributing to the TIFF Fund. Since Parkside was an entrance to the Riverwalk, Cayce gave him that funding and he did spruce the entrance up with improved infrastructure, lighting, shrubs, and other nice things. It’s a pretty way to access the Riverwalk.

As the new cottages were developed, Cayce hired TNT Inc. to install a sewer line for the Parkside Cottages neighborhood as well. This is done all the time. The sewer provider installs the main and the developer pays a tap fee for each home built and serviced. TNT also moved another sewer line and a potable (drinking) water line. It doesn’t look like TNT did anything with the stormwater system or to the creek at all. The word creek is used here because the stream had gotten bigger remember.

Sometime around 2005, the year Parkside was developed, some drainpipes showed up. There are two and one is larger than the other. The smaller of the two seems to have water flowing through it all the time. Those pipes really are what seems to have caused the fast growing crisis that all the “stakeholders” face today, the Cayce Canyon.

Whoever put those pipes in did so at an odd angle. Instead of aligning them straight down the stream’s bed, they were angled just enough to have them pointing at the yards on the northern side. That began to increase the erosion of the stream bank at an alarming rate. Because the pipes weren’t installed straight, they acted like hydro mining equipment. Every time it rained those pipes flowed water straight across to the northern bank, washing more dirt away. The dirt and debris from the canyon’s wall washed right into the Congaree River. It has washed away what appears to be thousands of cubic yards of soil into the river so far! Some of it was Cayce’s soil and now more and more of it belonged to those three homeowners on the northern rim.

Trees began to fall in the stream now turning into a creek. That became the canyon eventually. One tree fell and smashed a little storage building. As the water blasted the bank, the canyon got wider. Big hunks of the peoples’ yards just began falling in and washing away. It was bad, really bad! Keep that phrase and especially the word BAD in mind, you’ll hear it again.

More building and development was going on uphill. The SCDOT owned streets in the Avenues and their water ran into the creek turning into a canyon. Businesses, homes, cottages, they all added to the watershed as more and more storm water rushed downhill. Everyone adding water to the stream are who Cayce refers to as the “stakeholders.” When it rains, all their water runs downhill right into the City of Cayce’s creek that’s just getting bigger and bigger. That little trickle of a stream went from something you hop over to something that would break your neck if you fell in!

Cayce realized that the City was quickly outgrowing the overall storm drain system. You didn’t have to be a genius to see that. Every time it rained hard, it flooded. In 2016, American Engineering conducted an Avenues Drainage Study to decide what to do. According to the City, that area of M Avenue was studied too. You can see the entire study by clicking this LINK and reading what all was included and suggested. Search around for that little dead end block of M Avenue.

Cayce really got fired up about trying to improve the storm water system. The canyon on M Avenue was brought to the attention of Cayce’s Zoning and Planning Director Carroll Williamson. That same year, then City Manager Rebecca Vance also sent out the call for anyone in the area of the City with drainage problems and horror stories about drainage to let them know about them; everyone tell us your problems and we’ll study this. Then, Cayce would try to push some of the drainage problems back uphill by going to the SC State Legislature for help. After all, there was lots of state water running through for sure too! According to the final study, Cayce needed about $20 million to repair the entire area's drainage system right. Of course, Cayce didn’t have $20,000 million laying around. As of today, nothing close to that has been appropriated by the state for Cayce’s storm drainage.

The people who live in the three houses on the north rim got more and more concerned. There were meetings with everyone. Cayce’s Mayor Partin came by and looked at the canyon. Karen Dawkins, one of the property owners, distinctly remembers hearing the mayor say the problem was bad. The mayor is an intelligent lady, and the severity of the problem was easy to see. Truth be told, at the point when the mayor came by, the situation had gotten very bad. According to Karen Dawkins, just one homeowner who was clutching the end of her rope, the situation was quickly becoming a disaster!

Meanwhile, the power company had to move those poles in Karen’s backyard because they were falling in the canyon. “I can’t let children play in my yard because the fence is just hanging off into the air,” she pointed out. “It’s sloped so bad toward the canyon that what was once a little stream. [sic] It has made my whole yard useless.” The poles were moved but nothing more changed.

Karen, a diminutive woman who looks straight out of the ‘50s, is rather persistent, persistent and organized. She began gathering documents, drawings, plats, and studying them very closely. She began inviting everyone of influence who would listen to visit. Cayce heard her cries and had American Engineering study the Canyon. They said it would cost a bit over $475,000 to repair the canyon issue. Everyone agreed the canyon was a problem, but no one seemed to have the money for the fix.

In government, towns and cities are usually at the bottom of the ladder. Once something lands at their feet, getting it headed back up is almost impossible. When government officials of every level looked at the canyon, they’d usually point at someone else, turn their back, and walk away. Karen said if she thought she was making any headway with a Cayce official, they would leave, retire, and things wouldn’t seem to be passed on. New administrations seemed shocked. “The leaders of Cayce didn’t seem to be communicating. They’d seemed like they had never heard of the issue at all.” She passed out booklets to all the leaders at Cayce’s meetings. She said they seemed shocked that what started as a little stream could become this Grand Cayce Canyon!

Karen called everyone. She had already made and printed those booklets to hand out at meetings, so she thought, “Why not show them the problem.” When a politician came to look at M Avenue, they’d hold on for dear life, peer over the rim, tsk-tsk their teeth, and say, “It’s bad, really bad!” Karen’s had just about everyone from the city clerk to Congressman Joe Wilson visit Cayce’s Grand Canyon. Even the Congaree River Keeper came by and agreed, “It was bad, really bad,” according to Karen.

Tara Almond, the Cayce councilmember for District 1, the district where Cayce’s Canyon is located, was the first with some seemingly good news. The City was applying for a FEMA Pre-Disaster grant in hopes of getting the money for a fix. Remember the little study of the Cayce Canyon done by American Engineering? All they needed was about $475,000 and change and the canyon could be fixed. They applied for the grant, crossed the I’s and dotted all the T’s. Then they prayed they’d be approved.

Dawkins came to The Lexington Ledger fed up in January of 2020. During the process of making everyone aware of the canyon, she had compiled a book of documents, pictures, deeds, and permits. With all this neatly tabbed paperwork, she intended to prove that the government had messed up! Someone rerouted a stream, built in an area that was supposed to be held in its wild state, and more! Most importantly, someone let someone install those stupid pipes pointing straight at the soil bank under the three northern backyards. These were yards that belonged to Dawkins, Tommy Spires, Travis Mathias and their families. Going through her book was quite a chore.

We contacted Cayce’s Assistant City Manager Jim Crosland who sent us a response. In that he said, “Cayce staff has met with one of the M Avenue property owners, Mrs. Dawkins, on many occasions and are sympathetic to the issue and have honestly relayed our efforts and actions. However, we have to continue to stress that the City is not solely responsible for decades of stormwater issues and shouldn’t be responsible for the entire solution.” It looks like he’s right here, it’s not all Cayce’s fault. Lots of other folks’ water is in the Cayce Canyon washing away the soil.

Later at Crosland’s request, the editor of The Lexington Ledger met with him and Cayce’s Director of Public Information Ashley Hunter at the city hall. Crosland was just promoted to his position in late summer of 2019. Prior to that, he was the assistant director of public safety. He was doing his best to try and get up to speed on the canyon, make a difference if he could, and keep up with everything else he was assigned by Cayce too. Sure, the canyon was important, but it wasn’t the only thing he was doing either.

The pictures we showed the pair were what seemed to shock Cayce’s staff the most! This 25-foot-deep, 40-foot-wide behemoth was in Cayce? You really must see it to believe it. Just don’t decided to go look without being invited. It’s all private property and dangerous to get near. Most importantly, during that meeting, everyone in the room wondered where those pipes came from and who put them there? They really don’t seem to be engineered or properly installed. It’s almost like someone just stuck them in when no one was looking!

During that meeting, Crosland made it clear again they were trying. Cayce just didn’t have an extra $475,000 lying around to stem the growth of the canyon. Besides, other people were adding their water to Cayce’s canyon and few were stepping up and opening their wallets to help fix the mess. These were those “stakeholders” they talked about. Yes, Cayce appears to have some responsibility to repair it, but so do others! In fact, according to the drainage study, the water gushing through really isn’t the city's.

Finally, near the end of the meeting, the pair from Cayce were asked what Plan B was if the grant was denied. They said that they would have to look to all the “stakeholders” adding their water and see what help they could get. They needed to pitch in and do their part as well. Crosland made it clear that Cayce, like other municipalities, was at the bottom of the heap when problems arose. All the big governments would send it down the ladder and Cayce was at the bottom. He made it clear again that Cayce didn’t create the entire problem. They weren’t the only one who’s contributed to the creek / canyon over the years. Still, everyone is looking for them to fix it. Cayce was trying to do their part with the grant, they just needed some of the other responsible parties to help. The very next week, the FEMA grant was denied.

Karen Dawkins is considering hiring an attorney. That seems like a good idea on the surface but then, who ALL do you sue? To truly sue whoever’s at fault, engineers decide how much water is coming from where. They’d decide who’s dumping water into the canyon and what percentage belongs to whom. Then, those entities will have to be sued for their percentage of the fix. Karen Dawkins says much of that information is already in the drainage study, By the time the litigation is done, Travis’ business, Karen’s house, and Tommy’s little slice of heaven may all be in the bottom of the canyon. This could get crazy!

Karen pointed out recently that they were still paying the same tax rates on less land. “Shouldn’t my taxes go down as my land just gets washed away by someone else’s water. If I had an acre, or a half-acre when I began, I sure don’t now. That fence just hanging there was on my land in my yard. Now, it’s just my useless fence. Now there’s no land to hold it up. It’s all just washing away!” she said emphatically.

How serious is this? Remember the eight feet? That’s the distance from the rear of Travis’ workshop to the edge of the canyon. It’s really a matter of just that eight feet. If that eight feet washes away, which it’s likely to do if someone doesn’t do something quick, the building will start getting gobbled up like beachhomes during a hurricane. The problem is this is in the Avenues of Cayce, not the beach!

What should be done? It should be fixed of course. The problem is who pays. It seems as if more grant writing can go on, but things are reaching critical mass here. Some entity needs to budget the money even if they must make painful cuts. Other contributors should man up, pay their fair share, and do it without getting sued. Lawyers cost money and in the grand scheme of things, $475,000 isn’t that much. Especially when there are three families suffering that can’t use their yards, sell their homes, or even have their own fences because of the Cayce Grand Canyon. Why don’t you all get around a table folks, talk and work it out. Bring your checkbook and be prepared to do your part to save what these folks worked and paid for!

Since the 1990s, Karen Dawkins, Travis Mathias and Tommy Spires, the three northern rim homeowners have been dealing with this. It’s time folks, time to do something for them. Someone needs to make the fix before they lose their yards or their homes eventually just disappear. If someone falls into Cayce’s Grand Canyon, if Travis’ business slides over the edge or, if the use of their property is limited even more, the fix for the Cayce Grand Canyon could get a lot more expensive.

Government officials go look for yourself. Be careful, it’s very dangerous. Peek over the edge, then you decide. When you have, you’ll know right away, something must be done and someone needs to figure out who will take the lead, quickly!

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