West Ashley restaurant accused of improperly disposing of wastewater, polluting pond

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – The city of Charleston is requiring a West Ashley restaurant to clean up grease and cooking oils that polluted a local pond.

Charleston officials say Rio Chico Mexican Restaurant on Magwood Drive discharged grease and cooking oils into their back parking lot. Running water collected the material and swept it into a storm drain, which then fed into a nearby pond on Ashley Crossing Drive.

Charleston Director of Stormwater Management Matthew Fountain says first they make sure the activity stops, and then they issue a notice of violation. Violators are given a seven-day window to clean up the issue before they come back and verify. If it doesn’t get fixed within seven days, typically a summons is issued, where the owner has to come to court.

Fountain says when they went to the site, they saw cooking oil and grease in the parking lot, and a “clear trail” of it running to a stormwater crate inlet. They followed that down to the pond, where they found floating sections of grease in the pond.

Christopher Jordan works with the Carolina Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which helps mitigate human impacts on the environment through medical treatment, education and scientific research. He says he received a call about an injured osprey last week. When he got to the bird, he smelled the stench of cooking oil. Following that, more calls started coming in about other animals.

Lowcountry wildlife volunteers have spent the past several days rescuing affected animals.

“We got many affected turtles. We have an alligator affected,” Jordan said. “We retrieved two green herons and an osprey.”

The Carolina Wildlife Rehabilitation Center says they will continue to monitor the area as new birds could become oiled until the pond is cleaned up. They say they have a plan to rescue dozens of turtles that are also oiled.

Fountain says the issue is often a common misunderstanding.

“The storm drains, the curb inlets on your streets, those don’t go to a wastewater treatment plant. Those aren’t treated,” Fountain said. “Those are just direct discharging into the creeks or the marshes or the ponds of the area.”

Fountain says they see about 10 to 12 of these incidents a year.

“All these things are a wakeup call to us, to what we’re doing to the environment, and it will impact us in the long run,” wildlife volunteer Lynn Parker said.

Rio Chico has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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