- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


July 24

The Post and Courier of Charleston on the safety of the state’s dams:

Flooding in South Carolina last fall was the worst this state has seen in centuries, largely due to a convergence of heavy rainfall and high tides.

But the breaching of 52 dams was part of the disaster that should never be allowed to happen again.

The fact that 47 of those dams were state regulated created a false sense of safety. That they were breached, even under extraordinary circumstances, says that state protections aren’t adequate or aren’t being enforced adequately.

There is cause for continuing alarm, until the safety issue is fully settled.

Most of the breached dams were earthen, according to Georgia Tech associate professor Hermann Fritz, who led a team to assess the damage. And those dams can be a source of problems even without extraordinary weather conditions, as the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control acknowledges.

For example, DHEC officials say that earthen dams need to be protected from erosion by regularly uprooting plants, filling animal burrows and checking for any cracks or shifts in the earth.

Though the dams are officially inspected by DHEC every two to five years, it is ultimately up to owners, including private developers and housing associations, to identify problems and engage engineers to take care of essential maintenance.

Unfortunately, owners don’t always have the finances or knowledge necessary to get the job done.

David Baize, DHEC’s chief of the Bureau of Water, says the agency sent a team of experts to assess more than 650 dams that were considered high-risk after the floods, and singled out 75 that were of significant concern. Within a couple of weeks, their owners were sent “emergency orders” to start putting plans in place to repair or maintain these dams. A third of them, however, were unable to comply by the given deadline.

As a result, those 25 owners were issued “notices of violation” and have since been guided by DHEC through a long planning process for repairs that often can cost more than $100,000. The expense of repairing the largest dams can reach $1 million.

By summer, the vast majority of those 75 dam owners had obtained permits to begin maintenance and repairs, including most of the 25 who needed additional assistance. Only seven dam owners have been subjected to a more severe enforcement process, some facing penalties.

When owners do not comply, the state’s Dams and Reservoirs Safety Act gives DHEC the authority to repair (or even remove) dams and charge expenses, plus fines, from the owner.

House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, believes the current law is inadequate. A bill he sponsored after the floods proposed several amendments, including requiring owners to register their dams and send an annual dam safety declaration to DHEC. It would also impose more severe penalties for lack of compliance. The bill was still in committee at the end of the 2016 session, but Mr. Lucas hopes that the House will continue with hearings before the 2017 session.

Some legislators and dam owners have expressed concern that regulation infringes on property owners’ rights. But the devastating results of last year’s flooding and the extreme toll it took on public and private property make it obvious that public safety can’t be left wholly to the oversight of individual dam owners.

Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens, says the main problem in compliance has been financial, an obstacle that was also cited by Mr. Baize. Rep. Hiott, chairman of the House agriculture committee, has scheduled one more public hearing preliminary to going back to the drawing board on the bill to strengthen state oversight of private dams.

In addition, legislators should consider whether DHEC has adequate resources to keep on top of dam inspections and communicating with dam owners about their responsibilities. Apparently, some owners remain unaware of their responsibilities, despite the department’s efforts to educate them through numerous forums and workshops.

For instance, a landowner might be confused about his responsibility for maintaining a dam when a public road is constructed on top of it - and reasonably so.

Lawmakers should remain diligent about putting a comprehensive program in place to protect the public.

After all, we don’t know when the next natural disaster will strike.




July 23

The Aiken Standard on the Augusta Regional Airport and the Central Savannah River Area:

It’s located in Augusta, but the Augusta Regional Airport is the aviation hub for the entire CSRA. That’s the message airport officials conveyed during a recent meeting with the Aiken Standard editorial board.

Thursday’s meeting also served as a forum to introduce Herbert Judon, the airport’s recently hired executive director. Judon started with the airport in May after having served as assistant aviation director of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, one of the largest airports in the entire southeast.

We were very impressed with Judon’s deep background in aviation and understanding of the growth that’s occurring in the CSRA.

“This region is bustling in my opinion,” Judon said. “We have a lot of regional assets that are tremendous.”

Naturally, one of the region’s biggest assets is the Masters golf tournament held every April at nearby Augusta National Golf Club. It’s truly an international event, drawing not only players but also corporate sponsors, fans and other visitors to the Aiken-Augusta area. The Augusta airport provides a critical access point for many of those visitors.

Of course, there are a lot of other wonderful year-round draws, such as Aiken’s rich equestrian tradition. Fort Gordon isn’t far away, and the Savannah River Site south of Aiken remains an important economic engine for the CSRA.

Much of the growth that’s to come can be found in nearby North Augusta, and having a thriving airport nearby is an important asset facilitating the flow of visitors to Aiken County’s second largest city.

North Augusta is the host site for the annual Peach Jam basketball tournament, which includes some of the nation’s top prospects and big name coaches along with them. The City of North Augusta is getting close to unveiling details of Project Jackson, a multi-use development featuring a new minor league baseball stadium, a hotel, shopping and restaurants.

As the CSRA continues to add to its growing list of amenities and attractions, our hope and the hope of airport officials is that will lure more air carriers to the Augusta terminal.

Judon says Delta and American are the two chief carriers offering flights. While efforts are ongoing to open up new markets, there are also efforts to attract other airlines.

Growth of the airport is important to Aiken County because the facility itself is an important economic driver.

Airport spokeswoman Diane Johnston estimates the airport helps to create and maintain about 1,500 jobs. Many of those jobs are indirectly connected in the form of hotels, rental car agencies and other jobs related to the airport’s operation.

In terms of usage, Johnston says a significant portion of people flying in and out of the Augusta airport are South Carolina residents. Many South Carolina residents also work there.

While exact numbers were unavailable, she surmised a significant portion of those people hail from Aiken County. Aside from residents living in extreme eastern Aiken County, the Augusta airport is the closest mid- to large-sized terminal for most Aiken County residents.

The overall economic impact generated by the terminal is $269 million, Johnston said. We are thankful to the fine folks who run the Augusta Regional Airport, and we extend a warm welcome to Judon, the airport’s new director. We’re looking forward to hearing more great news from this important economic engine.




July 22

The Post and Courier of Charleston on ethics reform in the state:

The odds against meaningful ethics reform in our state, like the odds against the Gamecocks winning a Southeastern Conference football championship, have long been daunting.

Yes, last month Gov. Nikki Haley signed two ethics reform bills passed by the General Assembly. But those measures, while advancing needed changes on a couple of fronts, still fell short of the full-accountability goal line.

Maybe the Legislature will gain more ethics ground next year.

However, its focus should be on something more substantial than nitpicking USC’s practice of giving governors use of season football tickets and Williams-Brice Stadium executive suites at the Gamecocks’ home games.

The State Ethics Commission ruled last September the governor could use the tickets and suite for any purpose, providing the “priority” was state-related. Then on Wednesday, the commission revised that decision.

As reported in our Thursday story, Ethics Commission attorney Michael Burchstead explained the update: “Rather than saying ‘using the tickets for state-related purposes is a priority,’ the opinion states these tickets need to be used for state-related purposes, period.”

However, commission member Frank Grimball, who had asked for the review of last year’s opinion, found the change insufficient. He wanted the rule to restrict use of the tickets to “economic development.”

Chaney Adams, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Wednesday that as in previous gubernatorial administrations, Mrs. Haley has strictly used the suite “for state-related purposes, including economic development and business recruitment, because there’s no better way to showcase the great things going on in our state.”

Mrs. Haley, a Clemson graduate, also has a Death Valley suite, provided by that university’s board members and others, for the Tigers’ home games.

And as long as those tickets and suites for either school’s games aren’t being sold to benefit Mrs. Haley or anybody else, this gubernatorial perk hardly seems excessive or corrupting.

Instead, it seems like a home-field advantage for the state’s top elected official in the big game of bringing more business investment - and good jobs - to South Carolina.

As for the Gamecocks, their chances of winning an SEC title in their first season under coach Will Muschamp look even slimmer than usual, coming off a 3-9 season that included a loss to The Citadel.

On the other hand, USC has won five out of its last seven games against Clemson.



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