Sen. Glenn Reese plans to remove first responders from lakes

Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019

COLUMBIA—State Sen. Glenn Reese doesn’t believe lake wardens should patrol Spartanburg Water’s three reservoirs and has proposed new legislation that would dismantle the utility’s safety and security program for more than 270 miles of watershed area.

Reese, who owns a home overlooking Lake Bowen, filed his bill, S. 446, on Tuesday. None of his colleagues in the senate have been listed as co-sponsors of the new proposal that attempts to dismantle Spartanburg Water’s team of trained lake wardens, who are typically the first responders in water-based emergencies.

The bill centers on a request to repeal Act 465—legislation that Reese himself originally sponsored and shepherded through the senate. That act, which passed in 2002, created a new law enforcement division to ensure the presence of experienced lake wardens at Spartanburg Water-owned reservoirs.

The wardens must undergo training at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy and are recognized by the State Law Enforcement Division as peace officers with the power to make arrests. Wardens are also first responders in emergencies and are required to maintain certifications demonstrating their ability to perform CPR, emergency first aid and operate an automatic external defibrillator. They also offer boating safety classes to the general public.

Reese’s bill provides no mention of his approach to ensuring an adequate and consistent law enforcement presence of trained first responders on the water.

Officials from Spartanburg Water said their biggest concern is the lack of any assurances that the senator has a plan for who will take up the slack should the repeal be successful. Reese has not called to discuss his plans with any of the utility’s leadership.

“Spartanburg Water strongly opposes any legislation that attempts to abolish the presence of safety and security professionals on our drinking water reservoirs,” said Chad Lawson, the utility’s spokesperson. “Quite frankly, the senator’s latest actions have us scratching our heads—why repeal your own bill? More important, however, is finding out what his plans are to ensure an adequate first response.”

Commissioner Angela Viney said the wardens perform a vital role on the busy lakes, especially in the summer months when the risk for accidents increases. Thousands visit the lakes as local boaters, swimmers and anglers take advantage of the open waters on Bowen and Blalock. Municipal Reservoir Number One is not open to the public.

“These hard-working wardens are on the lakes each and every day, including holidays,” Viney said. “And they have been recognized for saving countless lives. What this legislation really demonstrates is Sen. Reese’s apparent lack of respect for these dedicated professionals who come to work every day to keep people safe.”

Reese has been a vocal critic of the utility’s renewed enforcement of watershed protections. Among his first bills to be introduced after taking office in 1991 was a plan to halt lake access fees, but only for lakefront residents.

Viney said that Spartanburg Water remains committed to keeping people safe on the water.

“We have to protect the water, and the people who enjoy the water,” she said. “I don’t think the senator is thinking through the real implications. These wardens have saved lives and help us protect the watershed. What’s his plan?”