South Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Island Packed and the Beaufort Gazette on the government response to a toxic trash disposal site:
What’s more toxic — a burning mountain of trash near Sun City Hilton Head, or government that cannot be trusted?
The debacle at Able Contracting Inc. in the Okatie section of Jasper County has been enabled by the inept handling by Jasper County, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, the judicial system and the state legislature.
For years, it has been known that a pile of trash towering 50 feet or more above a street lined with homes and businesses, was unmanageable and potentially dangerous. It has now lived up to that toxic potential.
The mountain should not be allowed by state law, but we’ve discovered that a yawning loophole in the law led to trash piles like this around the state.
Legislators say that problem has been fixed. But that didn’t stop neighbors of the trash mountain in Okatie from having to be evacuated.
Why was it not obvious that the pile of trash that was ostensibly being recycled was not being recycled?
The government’s reaction to the obvious has been a farce.
The owner of the trash mountain was charged last October with violating the Pollution Control Act and the Solid Waste Policy and Management Act under indictments handed down by a Jasper County grand jury. The alleged violations date to 2015. But Chandler Lloyd’s first appearance in court came nine months later, for a quick arraignment.
DHEC cited Lloyd with violating the S.C. Solid Waste Act on Sept. 17, 2018, saying the company failed to meet the 75 percent recycling rate required for construction and demolition facilities for fiscal year 2016. That was resolved a month later — with a warning letter. You can’t even call it a slap on the wrist. But that’s how a problem of 2016 was addressed in 2018.
And then the trash mountain caught on fire, which is toxic. It has been on fire since at least June 3, but it was late August before a plan to get to the root of the problem was put into action.
And that has led to the new fear that toxic runoff from the firefighting effort will flow into the Okatie or New rivers.
Here again, the government failed the people. After DHEC finally called the federal Environmental Protection Agency to the scene, the public was told that polluted water from the trash mountain would not leave the property. But the Savannah Riverkeeper advocacy group said it wasn’t so, and DHEC finally admitted it, but said it was mitigating the potential damage from toxic runoff.
At this point, who could believe that?
One thing we know: this fight is a marathon, not a sprint.
It is good to at last see a little bit of sprinting. The governments are finally tackling the fire in earnest.
But the public danger will not subside until the mountain is gone, and no new “recycling” materials are allowed to pile up here or anywhere in the state. DHEC and EPA need long-term, real-time monitoring of the air and water, with corrective measures as needed. They also need to test the earth beneath the mountain and the entire lot.
And then comes the harder part of the governments — local and state — regaining public trust. They can start by fixing the sluggishness that made a toxic mountain out of what should have been a mole hill.
The Index-Journal on a state Supreme Court-involved disagreement between an energy provider and local business owners:
One thing is for certain. The “old” Duke rate is an albatross. For Duke Energy, at least. Thus the power struggle that erupted in 2015 between Tommy and Carolyn McCutcheon and the energy provider.
The McCutcheons powered up the long-dormant 25 Drive-in back in 2008, bringing a bit of nostalgia in residents’ lives with the return of drive-in movies. Residents could listen to the audio on their radios while watching a movie on the big screen, all in the comfort of their vehicles. A good old-fashion quick-order grill and snack bar just added to the charm.
But then something happened in 2015. Power outages were causing disruptions at the drive-in. Duke officials determined a larger line would be needed to serve the business because of growing capacity.
Thus began the battle.
A new line would mean the drive-in would be subject to current Duke rates, taking their monthly power bill from $200 to $1,000. That’s a lot of movie tickets, and burgers and fries.
An independent electrician disputed Duke’s claim, saying the newer equipment the McCutcheons were using to show movies used far less power than what had been used prior to their taking over the theater, to include the projection system used back in the 1940s when the drive-in first opened.
Duke said otherwise, saying it had determined the problem lay squarely with the drive-in’s equipment and that it posed a fire hazard. Duke told the McCutcheons that if they did not agree to the installation of new lines, which would result in their business being taken off the old Duke rate, their power would be cut. And so it was in June 2017.
In July, state regulators got involved and ruled that Duke should have gotten permission from the state Public Service Commission before taking the drive-in off the old rate. Subsequently, the PSC unanimously ruled in the drive-in’s favor, saying it should be restored to the old rate. In doing so, it put the onus back on Duke as the responsible party for ensuring it was providing its customers safe and reliable power delivery.
On appeal, the state Supreme Court weighed in and also ruled in favor of the McCutcheons.
It’s not as if hundreds of thousands of Duke customers are on the old rate. With fewer than 3,000 of its 7.4 million customers enjoying the substantially lower power rate that the power giant itself agreed to in 1966, it hardly seems an issue large enough to go to court over, especially all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Reporting about $820 million in earnings this second quarter of 2019 alone, was it really necessary to hit up one of the few remaining iconic American entertainment venues for another $800 a month in power bills? Was it even a good PR move?
Don’t be surprised if the marquee at 25 Drive-in soon announces a reshowing of the movie “David and Goliath.” And if you go, be sure to get one of Tommy McCutcheon’s classic burgers. They’re as enjoyable and nostalgic as the old Duke rate.
The Post and Courier on taking steps to clarify a law that makes certain violent threats illegal:
Those chilling, racist videos from a Columbia 16-year-old should have been a wake-up call for South Carolina in more ways than one. As Seanna Adcox reports, the new disturbing-schools law he was charged under doesn’t specify a penalty.
That’s easy enough to fix, but there’s the even bigger reveal here: Although it’s a crime in South Carolina to threaten teachers, principals, elected officials and other government employees, it’s not generally a crime to just threaten ordinary people.
And that’s explicit threats. It doesn’t even get into the problem of what to do with implicit threats — like the ones the 16-year-old made.
There’s plenty of work we can do to clarify our patchwork of laws dealing with overt threats.
One law makes it a crime for students to “make threats to take the life of or to inflict bodily harm upon another by using any form of communication whatsoever.” That’s the crime the Columbia teen was charged with violating, based on a text message in which he allegedly threatened to “shoot up” his school. Solicitors say the punishment is 10 years in prison, based on another section of state law. But it’s just as easy to argue that it’s only one year — the punishment given under the old disturbing-school law from which the idea was taken.
A separate law makes it a crime for an adult to threaten to shoot up a school — but not any other place.
The Senate passed a bill this year by Sen. Sandy Senn to outlaw anyone making a threat involving churches, publicly owned buildings, recreational parks or any other “public gathering places.” S.276 could apply to cases like the one involving the Columbia teen. Anyone arrested would have to undergo a mental health evaluation and, if warranted, treatment or counseling. The penalty would range from one year in prison for the first conviction of simply making a threat to five years for making a threat that results in serious injury or death.
That’s better than what we have now. But why shouldn’t it also be illegal to threaten to attack people in their homes?
A much better idea is to make it a crime for anyone — not just students — to “make threats to take the life of or to inflict bodily harm upon another by using any form of communication whatsoever.”
Lawmakers should do that when they return to work in January.