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South Carolina editorial roundup

November 1, 2017

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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Oct. 27

The Island Packet of Hilton Head Island on new beachfront development regulations:

People outraged by new beachfront development regulations should take a longer view. The state certainly has.

A primary goal of state oceanfront policy is to keep new development from creeping closer and closer to the ocean, where it is in harm’s way.

South Carolina has been working toward this specific goal since the landmark Beachfront Management Act of 1988, and for the overall protection of cherished coastal assets since the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972.

To do that, the state and other governments have drawn lines in the sand, so to speak, based on long-term erosion rates along the entire S.C. shoreline.

Since 1988, the state has attempted to ward off development seaward of what they call the “baseline.”

The lines have moved as they have been updated every seven to 10 years. But it didn’t really work to ward off encroachment of development into vulnerable areas.

That changed in June 2016 when legislation passed unanimously in both the state House and Senate to lock in the baseline as of Dec. 31 of this year and prohibit it from ever moving seaward.

Property owners on Hilton Head Island and elsewhere said they were blindsided by the new line, even though this concept has been a public issue for 30 years, often led by statewide task forces representing all major stakeholders and led by Beaufort County citizens; and even though last year’s legislation led in the House by Rep. Bill Herbkersman of Bluffton was widely reported, commented upon and challenged throughout a two-year legislative process. People want more time to digest it and make comment to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, whose public comment period on the new lines is to close on Nov. 6.

Some say the new standard will hurt property values, but values have risen dramatically since development began in earnest in Beaufort County in the 1950s, despite erosion, and even after beachfront restrictions came into play.

The law allows for flexibility. Buildings outside the “baseline” or a landward “setback” line can be rebuilt if damaged or destroyed. Beyond the baseline, the size would be limited to 5,000 square feet of heated space. Swimming pools could be rebuilt at the same size, unless they are beyond the baseline and not protected by existing functional erosion control devices.

Also, the law allows for appeals to DHEC, and beyond that to a state court.

And the regulations take into account the “takings” concept. In fact, a 1992 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States established that the Beachfront Management Act could not stop an Isle of Palms property owner from building homes on his two oceanfront lots because it constituted a “total takings” of all economically-beneficial use of his property. It was considered a great victory for property rights, and has influenced state management of the coastal zone.

At this point, we must not forget the reason for the setback lines. It was stated succinctly in the 1988 law: “Erosion is a natural process which becomes a significant problem for man only when structures are erected in close proximity to the beach/dune system. It is in both the public and private interests to afford the beach/dune system space to accrete and erode in its natural cycle. This space can be provided only by discouraging new construction in close proximity to the beach/dune system and encouraging those who have erected structures too close to the system to retreat from it . A forty-year policy of retreat from the shoreline is established.”

Subsequent reviews of that law by scientists, citizens and legislators have shown it to be even more important today. That should not be a surprise to anyone.

Online: http://www.islandpacket.com/

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Oct. 30

The Post and Courier of Charleston on the fate of a failed nuclear site:

The V.C. Summer nuclear facility at Jenkinsville is a major liability for electrical ratepayers, and for the state of South Carolina because of the involvement of public utility Santee Cooper. Nevertheless, the stalled nuclear project is a potential asset, and should be preserved, at least until independent engineers determine if it can be made functional at some later date.

Doing so means another expense for the twin-reactor project, which has already gobbled about $9 billion. But if left exposed to the elements, it won’t be worth anything.

Consider that the Tennessee Valley Authority stopped construction on its 80-percent-completed Watts Bar 2 reactor in the early 1980s, then restarted work in 2007, completed construction in 2015 and finally started producing electricity in 2016. Though sidelined for years, it became the nation’s first new source of nuclear-generated electricity in 20 years.

On the other hand, Duke Power abandoned its Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant near Gaffney in 1982 and left it to the elements. Its only practical use came in 1987, when movie producer James Cameron filled the turbine pit and containment vessel with water and used them to film “The Abyss.”

Former Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter has estimated that preserving the construction site could cost about $15 million per year.

Already, a few big players in the electric power industry are kicking the tires of Santee Cooper, which owns 45 percent of the stalled nuclear project. So it’s certainly in the state’s interest, and those of taxpayers and ratepayers, to preserve what’s there, at least for the present. The Legislature should insist on it.

Although the project was only 37 percent finished when work was stopped July 31, about 90 percent of the remaining parts worth billions of dollars have been purchased and are on-site.

Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, whose district includes the site, told a Senate committee last week that the need to act is urgent. He’s right.

“We have a state asset there — at least 45 percent of the $9 billion invested there. I don’t know how we can wait until we meet again in three weeks to allow a state asset to be further damaged.”

A spokesman for Gov. Henry McMaster has said the governor would urge SCE&G/SCANA, which owns 55 percent of the project, to help preserve the site for “the benefit of the state.”

But SCANA officials have expressed a selfish desire to simply abandon the project to take advantage of tax write-offs potentially worth billions. Maybe that will change with the reported departure of CEO Kevin Marsh.

Though the state has limited oversight of SCE&G/SCANA, the state Public Service Commission should demand that the utility shoulder its share of the upkeep costs.

Mothballing the reactors won’t ensure their eventual completion and use, but it will retain the viability of the project, assuming that errors in the project’s construction can be repaired. If experts can make the call on that essential question in the near term, so much the better.

Online: http://www.postandcourier.com/

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Oct. 29

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal on a local sales tax proposal:

Spartanburg County voters should approve a 1-cent sales tax to fund a new city-county government and justice center.

The reasons for a yes vote are numerous, but they begin with the necessity of constructing new buildings. The county courthouse, city hall and county administration building are outdated, overcrowded and unsuitable for expansion.

The courthouse, which opened in 1958, has been plagued with mold growth that is unlikely to be fixed permanently. The design of the building allows condensation to form between the inner and outer walls year-round. As long as the county operates the courthouse, it is likely to have to close off portions every few years and undertake expensive work to clean out mold.

This isn’t healthy for the people who work in and visit the courthouse. In the past two years, the county has faced 52 workers’ compensation claims from employees who claimed the building made them sick.

And that’s not the biggest problem with the courthouse.

It is also difficult to secure. It has three entrances, and there is no way to separate possibly combative sides in criminal and legal disputes. An accused criminal and his family may have to wait in the same area as the victim of the crime, witnesses and jurors before the trial. These factors impose an additional burden on the Sheriff’s Office to provide security at the courthouse.

While the county grows, there is no way to effectively expand the courthouse, meaning the county must rent and renovate space in other buildings off-site to house county and state agencies. That’s not only financially inefficient; it makes it hard for residents to find and interact with these offices.

City Hall faces many of these difficulties. A joint city-county judicial and government complex would solve these problems. It would also give county residents one place to find city, county and many state authorities.

Building a new county-city complex at the site of the current courthouse also would allow the sites of the current county administration building and City Hall to be sold for private development, returning them to the tax rolls.

It will cost almost $217 million to build the necessary complex. The next question is how to pay for it. The referendum would allow the county to raise the money through a 1 percent local sales tax, which would expire after six years. This plan would allow the county to minimize borrowing for the project, saving tens of millions in interest.

By using a sales tax, the county can raise money from people traveling through Spartanburg County. One study showed that as much as a third of the cost of the project will be paid by non-residents of the county.

The alternatives are not good. If the referendum does not pass, the county will have to build a smaller courthouse and house other county and state agencies in separate buildings around town. The city will have to pursue a similar course. It will be an inefficient and costly system that will provide poorer service to residents. And the entire burden of paying for that system will be shouldered by the county’s property owners. Property taxes will be the only option available.

Voting yes on the referendum will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of city and county government. And it will make dealing with those governments and the court system easier and safer for everyone in Spartanburg County.

Online: http://www.goupstate.com/

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