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Bill Rauch

Time to get out front on the pathways

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This map shows all the sidewalks presently on Lady’s Island. Most but not all of these are separated from the cars on the street by just a 10-inch curb. Photo courtesy of Beaufort County Planning Dept.
This map shows all the sidewalks presently on Lady’s Island. Most but not all of these are separated from the cars on the street by just a 10-inch curb. Photo courtesy of Beaufort County Planning Dept.

By Bill Rauch

These will be struggles, but they are struggles worth undertaking.

The residents of Lady’s Island want a path or paths, something along the lines of Beaufort’s Spanish Moss Trail. They have now said that loudly and plainly.

Yet no master plan for Lady’s Island has called for such an improvement. There is no obvious corridor, like for example an abandoned railway corridor. And there’s no money in anyone’s current or proposed budget for such a thing.

This is an effort that begins right at the beginning … right at zero. Thus it is not for the faint of heart.

Yet the potential benefits are enormous: increased property values, better public health, improved quality of life, increased tourism and a stronger and more cohesive community to name a few.

Having heard the call, Beaufort County’s planners have quietly begun working on a plan for pathways on Lady’s Island. Soon we will see a draft plan, parts of which will undoubtedly have merit. Meanwhile, the city of Beaufort, which under the Northern Area Plan will have the responsibility of enforcing the plan, either hasn’t yet heard the call, or has declined to acknowledge it.

That’s probably because the Beaufort City Council knows it will cost whoever steps up with both time and money.

But it is past time for the city to step up for Lady’s Island. That doesn’t mean the city should go it alone financially. It shouldn’t. But it is time for the city to begin providing some leadership.

Here’s a scenario for the upcoming budget season.

Let’s break out the revenues provided to the city’s treasury from Lady’s Island: property taxes, business license taxes, prepared food taxes.  

Add the three figures up and subtract from that sum the city’s reimbursement to the Lady’s Island/St. Helena Fire District. What’s left is roughly what the city is putting into its pocket from Lady’s Island.

Then let’s add a line to the city’s fiscal year 2018 budget: “Implementation of the Lady’s Island Pathway Plan,” and ascribe to it a portion (15 percent?) of what’s left in the pot after the fire district gets paid.

Now the city’s actually got some skin in the game. People notice these things — especially government people. A modest commitment will bring with it modest credibility, which means people start paying attention. That’s when government gets beyond the talking stage and the real stuff starts happening.

But where to start?

The city should begin by staking out the position that the SCDOT should get off its current dark ages of the 20th century posture of replacing the Harbor Island Bridge with a bridge that has no hiker/biker walkway. Beaufort County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville will be right there with the city. State Sen. Tom Davis and the legislative delegation will surely come along too. 

It’s common sense. Why should Beaufort County have to pay for the bridge’s walkway out to one of the state of South Carolina’s signature parks — a park that is by the way growing in size, not shrinking.

The county should not have to pay. The SCDOT should pay for their bridge, including the part people walk and ride bikes on. And they would without a struggle in just about any other county in the state. 

But this is Beaufort County where Hilton Head Island is. So there’s going to be a struggle over who pays. 

Why should the city be in the forefront of the struggle? It is in the city’s interests that there be a good and safe hiker-biker path from the Woods Bridge to Hunting Island State Park.  

When the great path is finally built, and bike clubs from all over the Southeast come here to take that extraordinary (and no hills) ride through history, where will they sleep? In Beaufort’s hotels.

That’s just the beginning.

Now, having put the team together, the city should turn the team’s attention to choosing which portion of the Lady’s Island Pathways plan is the most popular and most doable, and then get to soliciting the state, the county, the SCDOT’s intermodal offices, private foundations, individual donors, and, yes, even the federal government to join the city in supporting Lady’s Island’s Pathway plan.

That’s how projects like these get built: with steady leadership, over time, a portion at a time, with many hands working — and egos buried — and many funding sources contributing.

Lady’s Island’s pathways and the trail to Hunting Island are good projects. They are worthy of the governments’ interest and support. 

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

Lady’s Island is Beaufort’s riddle

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By Bill Rauch

Lady’s Island was back in the news last week with 67 parcels there annexed into Beaufort and a big planning charrette at the elementary school that was organized by The Sea Island Corridor Coalition.

First, the big meeting. 

The city is way behind on reaching out to the residents of Lady’s Island. The meeting was basically the residents taking matters into their own hands. And, yes, of course the Coastal Conservation League sees in the void an opportunity to make some new friends and get in some contributions. Thus the snacks and crayons.

There was no harm done there except having attracted hundreds to their meeting, the organizers have gotten cocky and now think they may be able to go it alone without the city or the county.  That’s naive. 

To get what they want and for it to stick they’ll need to work with both governments, but especially the city whose responsibility it is under the Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan to manage the growth on Lady’s Island.

But the city has to be willing to do its part. And, in all candor, it appears to date it has not been. 

Why? Because the city has a problem. It wants the tax revenues from Lady’s Island, but it doesn’t want to incur the cost of delivering the services.

City Council has so underfunded its police department, for example, that the Beaufort PD isn’t able to answer most of the calls from the in-city parcels on Lady’s Island. The Beaufort police count on the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office for that.

Same with fire. Lady’s Island-St. Helena is carrying the load, although by intergovernmental agreement they are compensated by the city for doing so. 

And, of course, then there’s planning.

It’s past time to get real on Harris Teeter. No reasonable person can actually believe most of the shoppers who will shop at a Harris Teeter in the old Publix location will be pedestrians. The city needs the revenues, the chain wants to be in the neighborhood, and the neighborhood wants the store. It is time to end the stand-off. It’s OK for the parking lot to be on the Sea Island Parkway side like it was with Publix.

As suggested, most of the shoppers on Lady’s Island use automobiles to transport the goods they buy. Consultants can suggest more people should ride bicycles. Good. Maybe they will. It’s clearly healthy, except when you have to cross one of those five-lane roads. 

But more and more people want to live on Lady’s Island. That means there are more and more shoppers, and unless things change dramatically, there will thusly be more and more automobiles. 

Getting back to the meeting, so where’s the area traffic plan, including the intermodal part? Mayor Billy Keyserling said if he’d thought of it, he could have gotten for the city an integrated traffic plan for the big Publix intersection. But he didn’t. And the city doesn’t have one. 

The city’s transportation plan for Lady’s Island is characteristically “What can we get the county and SCDOT to do?”

No wonder the mayor kept his head down and his hands in his pockets at the big meeting.

It’s kind of like the embarrassing boats that slipped their anchors in Hurricane Matthew.

The mayor says he called a meeting of OCRM, DNR and DOT to try to get to the bottom of whose responsibility it is to get those boats off the Lady’s Island causeway to be either sold or scrapped. But, surprise, the state agencies each said cleaning up Beaufort’s waterfront is not their responsibility, nor is the project in any of their respective budgets.

Obviously the mayor thinks the city’s in the same boat: no responsibility, no money. So the junkyard continues. 

To be fair and not unduly critical, I applaud the mayor and council for the 67 annexations.   “Annexation” used to be a bad word with this group. Maybe with the added revenues from the new parcels the city will feel it has reached the critical mass on Lady’s Island such that it can begin delivering there the urban services that are implicit with the jurisdictional change.

Budget season approaches. Take note Lady’s Islanders. Take note Sea Island Corridor Coalition. It is there — and only there — that the true tale will be told. 

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

The Saga of Southside Park

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By Bill Rauch

This is a story of what happens when government changes its priorities. In the same breath let me hasten to add government should change its priorities. Priority-changing is the relentless reinventing that is the core strength of democracy.  

Sometimes, however, when governments change direction there are implications. This is a story about one such implication.

Previous Beaufort City Councils have consistently seen enhancing the city’s parks as a priority. Mayor Angus Fordham’s city council, for example in the 1960s, filled in what we know now as “The Marina Parking Lot,” fashioned a bandshell from a surplused quonset hut, called the new area “Freedom Mall,” and invited the public downtown for concerts. Here was where The Water Festival was begun.

Henry Chambers, in the 1970s, as we all know because the park is named for him, pushed through his signature accomplishment: the Waterfront Park that extended Freedom Mall to the Woods Bridge.

When David Taub was mayor in the 1990s, council began the long process of adding Southside Park to the city’s list of parks.

How was that done? I was there and I know firsthand.

David Taub and City Manager John McDonough had worked very hard negotiating a deal with The Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority (BJWSA) to sell at a fair price the city’s water and sewer works to them. The deal required the voters’ approval which was to be sought on the May 1999 ballot.  Also on that ballot were expected to be four well-known Beaufortonians — Henry Chambers, Billy Keyserling, Donnie Beer and myself — running to replace Taub as mayor since he had announced he would not seek reelection.

I was mayor pro tem at the time, and watching the Beaufort-Jasper deal go down I wondered whether the voters would vote for it, as I believed they should. Thinking about that, I saw a win-win. It would be an added incentive for the voters — especially for the all-important Mossy Oaks voters — to vote “yes” if they knew the site of the city’s stinky old Southside Boulevard sewage treatment plant would one day be turned into a neighborhood park.

I asked my campaign lawyer, now-State Senator Tom Davis, how that might be done and he suggested council vote to place a springing covenant on the land’s deed that would say “if and when the land is no longer needed for a sewage treatment plant, its ownership will revert to the city where it can only be used by the city for a neighborhood park.” Davis drafted up the covenant and council passed it unanimously several months before the election.

I ran on — among other issues — the BJWSA deal, and it was passed by the voters. The same voters the same day also elected me their mayor in a three-way race with Chambers and Beer (Keyserling had dropped out). And there the matter sat for a decade while the Water Authority built its Shell Point Plant, put the pieces into place to pump all the city’s sewage out to that plant, and then finally in about 2009 BJWSA surplused the Southside plant.

That’s when things got interesting.

At the time of the reversion, Tom Davis was representing the city on the BJWSA board. Davis favored the park, and there was a rumor that the park should be named for him. Unfortunately however by then the park’s name was mud.

After another unsuccessful run in 2004 — Billy Keyserling was by 2009 mayor and he was determined nothing good would come of the Southside Park deal. First he proposed breaking the perimeter of the park into lots and selling them one-by-one with the interior area serving as a kind of private park for the new owners of the perimeter parcels. But that proposal ran afoul of the springing covenant which had by then “sprung” by virtue of the land having reverted to the city. Next, Mayor Keyserling proposed planting the park’s open spaces in soybeans. But he couldn’t make that proposal fly either. Finally, frustrated, the city disbanded the park’s advisory committee, presumably because council didn’t want to hear any more requests for funding from them. And there the hapless park has sat, lucky to get mowed.

Last year, quelling an uproar from dog-owners who said they had waited too long for their promised park, the city put up some fences and called it a dog park. It is very popular. But more than a decade after it was first proposed, the perimeter trail is yet to be built. The bandstand and the playground are still just glints in the eye as well.  Building a bandstand, building a playground and even building a perimeter path are neither complicated nor expensive projects, if there’s a will to do them.

But there clearly is no will.

This city council’s announced priority is instead jobs: jobs for the children of the city’s residents. First they purchased and supported the Commerce Park. Then they purchased and are supporting the office building at Carteret and North streets where they are building a business incubator for high-tech companies.

I — and Mossy Oaks’ residents — hope these ambitious programs begin to work soon and bring in some tax revenues, because soon the grass at Southside will need mowing again. 

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

Developers propose new homes IN the fairways

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By Bill Rauch

Regular readers of this column may recall an analysis that appeared here in September 2016 showing that of the seven successful Beaufort County School District and countywide capital improvements referenda totaling about three-quarters of a billion dollars over the past 20 years, 60 percent of the money has gone to schools and roads in and around Bluffton.

Simply — and generously — stated, the Beaufort County Council didn’t adequately anticipate the public costs of the Sun City project when in 1991 they unanimously bought Del Webb’s argument that all the costs of the new city that would be built on the outskirts of Bluffton would be contained within the development.

We have been paying and paying ever since, and Bluffton has stayed pretty quiet. Why shouldn’t it?

The town of Bluffton had nothing formally to do with the 1991 Del Webb vote. However, let’s not forget most of the subsequent Del Webb spin-off development was permitted by Bluffton, which has further contributed to the public costs.

Interestingly, now things appear to be changing.

Bluffton is being driven by traffic jams and a new scarcity of parking to the tipping point. Oh yes, and by rising taxes too. The “rising tide,” it turned out, didn’t “float all boats.” It just floated the boats of the development community. And flashy speedboats they are.

As this column goes to press, Bluffton’s leaders are passing slow growth petitions.

The big paper companies’ timber tracts are all gone from Beaufort County now, so where will the new houses go?

No, not on the fairways. That was yesterday.

The new fashion is laying them up IN the fairways.

Golf courses along U.S. 278 are places into which millions of dollars have been invested within our recent memories for planning, clearing, filling out fairways and greens, sculpting out bunkers, building clubhouses and caddy shacks, making exotic grasses and shrubbery grow more beautifully and more.

But no matter. That was yesterday.

Take the case of the Hilton Head National Golf Club. Hilton Head National’s golf course was designed in 1988 by the great Gary Player and the new course was opened in 1990.

Now the property’s owner, Scratch Golf LLC, has asked Beaufort County to rezone the property from rural to a mix of commercial and residential neighborhood and hamlet designations under the county’s new CDC development code.

Where there are fairways, greens and bunkers, the owners seek now the government’s blessing to put 300 homes, 300 apartment units, 400,000 square feet of new retail space, a 500-room hotel, a 100,000-square-foot convention center, a 400-bed assisted living facility, a 1,500-seat performing arts center and a water park that would be visible from U.S. 278.

The new development will require two new schools be built, a flyover of U.S. 278 be constructed, and a new entrance fashioned that necessitates that at least one Heritage Lakes house be demolished, according to Tabor Vaux, who represents Bluffton on the Beaufort County Council.

Here’s the wrinkle. Hilton Head National isn’t contiguous to the town of Bluffton so it cannot be annexed into the town, and it is just outside Tabor Vaux’s councilmanic district. It is in Rick Caporale’s. But the traffic it will cause will be in Bluffton. So Vaux is asking who will pay.

Growth outside the town of Bluffton has been slow since 2008, and the county was caught a little flat-footed by Scratch Golf LLC’s proposal.

On Dec. 8, 2016, the county’s Planning Commission passed the rezoning 5-3 and sent the matter to the county council’s Nãtural Resources Committee, which rubber-stamped the rezoning and passed it along to the full Beaufort County Council.

That’s when reality began to set in.

On Jan. 9, the Beaufort County Council voted narrowly to table the rezoning until a development agreement can be negotiated.

Now a committee of county council members, chaired by Vaux, has been empanelled to formulate the agreement.

“This is a major, major project that is going to require tons of infrastructure. Who’s going to pay for that?” Vaux asks.

It’s a good question and one that could not be coming from a more appropriate corner.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

So … uh … what’s the plan, Beaufort?

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rauch-column-photo

Photo above: The top of page 8 of Beaufort’s 1959 Annual Report shows the initial concept drawing of what would later become the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. On the right are the municipal accomplishments the group wanted emphasized.

By Bill Rauch

Contemplating a new year and new beginnings, as we do this week, gives rise to recalling times past.

In my estimation the most forward-thinking Beaufort City Council of the past century was the 1958-59 group that was led by Mayor Angus Fordham. The other four were banker and Mayor pro tem (later mayor) F.W. (“Willie”) Scheper III, pharmacist Charles Aimar, and Bay Street retailers D.L. Koth and Meyer Schein. Uniquely, and to their credit, the group published an “Annual Report,” that was distributed in the April 30, 1959, Beaufort Gazette.

These guys had their act together.

Saying “Today’s Dreams are Tomorrow’s Realities,” their report called for, among other civic improvements:

• The construction of a municipal sewer system that they got right on and opened soon after on the Waddell Gardens parcel where the city’s beleaguered Southside Park stands now;

• An improved waterfront that 15 years after they called for it became the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park;

• “Improved Municipal Docking Facilities” that would become the downtown marina;

• A street sweeper that wouldn’t finally be purchased until 2001;

• And “construction of a modern City Hall” that would finally be brought online almost exactly 50 years after they called for it.

Compare this to the current group’s long-term planning efforts. The most recent plan that is published on the city’s website is the now-discredited five-year-old Civic Master Plan that is actually little more than a proposed future zoning map.

But where’s the plan for how the new Boundary Street will be marketed and should develop once the construction is complete? There’s precious little about that in the original Boundary Street Plan.

The 1959 group, their annual report shows, had an Annexation Committee comprised of five civic leaders, two of whom were sitting city council members. The present group acts like “annexation” is a dirty word. Bluffton and Hilton Head each have their current strategic plans up on their websites. Both are actively growing, or trying to grow, their boundaries. So certainly is Port Royal. Is Beaufort’s current informal “make it like it was” approach a realistic strategy?

Mayor Fordham’s 1959 report says the city quadrupled yacht traffic from 1955-1958.

The city has gotten a grant to remake the outermost pier of its downtown marina. Good. The marina operator’s lease is up in two years.

Where’s the plan for maximizing Beaufort’s extraordinary natural advantage as a desirable stop-over location along the Intracoastal Waterway?

The city’s leaders say they want to create an atmosphere in Beaufort so that Beaufort’s young people don’t have to leave to get good jobs. Good. They’ve tried industrial development at the Commerce Park and high-tech development with the Carteret Street digital corridor project. More than $3 million has been spent on those initiatives with little, if any, tangible return.

Both decisions looked from the outside like spur-of-the-moment real estate buys.

Stepping beyond whim to professionalism, and trying to get the cart back behind the horse, if that’s the priority, why not put in the effort to get serious industrial development and high-tech development approaches into place? Get the school board, the Technical College of the Lowcountry, the chamber of commerce and the business community on board.

We can disagree on whether this is local government’s appropriate role.

If it’s the group’s priority, as it seems to be, then what better time than now to put the pieces into place?

With the flawed penny sales tax measure down the drain, a new administration in Washington and a new city council, what better time than now to look ahead? If we don’t, to paraphrase the 1959 group, “No dreams today will be no realities tomorrow.”

Beaufort County’s hurricane gamble pays off

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By Bill Rauch

When the dust has settled on this year’s hurricane season, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conventions, conferences and seminars begin early next year, the presenters will be talking about Beaufort County and its County Council chairman, Paul Sommerville.

Why?

Because Sommerville sniffed out a FEMA loophole, swiftly and expertly exploited it, and within days of Hurricane Matthew’s departure won for Beaufort County’s taxpayers an estimated $15 million prize. Moreover, here and only here in South Carolina today the debris Hurricane Matthew left behind in private communities is being picked up at government (local, state or federal) expense.

Meanwhile none of the other coastal disaster-declared South Carolina counties — Colleton, Charleston, Georgetown and Horry, nor Gov. Nikki Haley — are today even in the game. The debris is piled high along Horry and Georgetown’s private roads, and no one is picking it up. And in Charleston and Colleton counties today in the private communities, it’s every man for himself.

Here’s how it happened.

Half of Beaufort County’s roads are private, gated, and/or controlled by property owners’ associations. That means the cost of removing post-Matthew debris brought to the roadsides of half the roads in the county would not under FEMA’s regulations be reimbursed by FEMA.

There are only three exceptions to the FEMA policy: if there is a health emergency, if the county typically picks up debris from these places or if the county’s finances are such that it would go broke if it had to pay for the debris removal itself.

Beaufort County does not typically pick up yard waste along its privately-owned roads, and with a $30 million emergency reserve fund and additional borrowing capacity, the county would not face bankruptcy if it were forced to pay a $15 million unexpected bill.

But what about the health emergency angle?

After Hurricane Matthew moved on up the coast on Oct. 22, knowing the three exclusions, Sommerville reached out to State Sen. Tom Davis to ask Davis to ask Haley to declare a health emergency for all the affected counties. It was a reasonable request although had the governor granted it, it would have been unprecedented.

The governor’s office explained to me last week that it is their view that health emergencies are things like terrorist bio-medical attacks, rogue viruses and major chemical spills or releases. Not hurricanes. And that is what the governor told Davis in the days after the storm.

As the early signs back from Columbia appeared negative, Sommerville doubled down and called on former-Gov. Mark Sanford to intercede with Haley. Sanford now represents Beaufort County and much of the Carolina coast in the U.S. Congress.

But the governor continued to demur.

Leaving half of Beaufort County to fend for themselves was not an option for Sommerville. The county was going to pick up the debris on all the county’s roadsides, but would the county have to pay?

Or was there another way to get FEMA to pay for the removal of the estimated half-million cubic yards of debris that Hurricane Matthew left behind in Beaufort County’s private communities?

On Oct. 23, with a regularly scheduled county council meeting scheduled for the next afternoon, Sommerville wrestled with that question with Deputy County Administrator Josh Gruber and county attorney Tom Keaveny. Together the three settled on Beaufort County’s Code of Ordinances Sections 22-28, the local law that enables county council to issue proclamations and regulations concerning health, safety and disaster relief during civil emergencies. Proclaiming a health emergency would at least permit the county to change its own policy and start picking up on the private roads, and it might meet FEMA’s test to enable the federal reimbursement.

Sommerville started calling his council members to bring them in on the plan. That’s when he found most of them were still evacuated and wouldn’t be able to get to the Monday meeting. Some proposed canceling it, but Sommerville knew he had to get the health emergency declared before the county’s contractors could start picking up the private roads. So, speaking one-by-one with his members, he determined he could probably get a quorum together on Oct. 26, so he postponed the meeting.

At the postponed meeting, still with two of his 11 members absent, a lively discussion of the emergency health measure ensued both in the executive session period and later in open session. Some members who represented poorer districts were uncomfortable putting up to $20 million at risk. In fact no one much liked it.

But the alternative — telling the residents who live in POAs, and/or behind gates, and/or on private roads, telling half the county that they were going to have to go it alone — was worse. No one had a better idea, so Sommerville’s plan was finally passed by a vote of 8-1.

The following morning the county’s debris removal contractors started rolling into the county’s dozens of private communities, including hard-hit Fripp and Harbor islands that are represented by Sommerville.

That was a big step, but the big dollar question remained: Would the county be reimbursed by FEMA at the standard public roads level of 75 percent for the cost of the debris removal on the county’s private roads? Would the local Health Emergency Proclamation gambit work?

It didn’t take long to find out. On Nov. 1, FEMA sent word the agency would reimburse Beaufort County for its private roads debris pick-up costs. Current estimates are those costs will be about $20 million. Of this FEMA has agreed to reimburse at the standard 75-percent level.

A FEMA spokesman told me last week that Beaufort County’s Health Emergency Proclamation had been “an important factor” in the federal agency’s unusual and swift decision.

If the current value of the county’s mil is $1.75 million, Sommerville’s out-of-the-box health emergency proclamation saved Beaufort County’s taxpayers the equivalent of 8.6 mils on their property taxes next year.

Meanwhile, neither Colleton nor Charleston counties have even applied to FEMA to be reimbursed for private road debris pick-up costs. Colleton officials didn’t respond to repeated calls, but Edisto Beach residents have told me the residents on private roads there have been told they are on their own. That is also the case in Charleston County, a spokesperson for Charleston County confirmed last week.

In Georgetown and Horry counties, the debris continues to pile up along private road roadsides, spokespersons for those counties confirmed last week, because the county councils there don’t want to risk having to bear locally the costs of those cleanups. In Georgetown County, debris disposal site fees are being waived for private communities, a spokesman said. But both counties were still waiting at press time for word back from FEMA whether the federal agency will reimburse them. Neither Georgetown nor Horry have passed local health emergency measures.

Beaufort County announced last week that countywide debris pick-up will be handled in three “passes.” The county now has over 100 contractors working its debris removal job. Their enormous black trucks and trailers are a commonplace sight on Beaufort County’s roads — both the public and private ones — these days.

By week’s end, Beaufort County officials predict, their team will be approaching the conclusion of its “first pass,” and by then about half of the of countywide post-Matthew debris will have been picked up.

And Sommerville, a die-hard college football fan, can enjoy Saturday’s Clemson-Pitt game with his daughter, a junior at Clemson University, knowing Beaufort County’s army of debris removal contractors are hard at work at home picking up the rest … and on the feds’ tab.

Vote the ‘Think For Yourself’ ticket

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By Bill Rauch

Reasonable people are of two minds about Nov. 8, this year’s election day. They are relieved the public name-calling might finally at least temporarily come to and end. But they find regrettable the choices before them.

Nonetheless, current surveys and the history books indicate, approximately the same lackluster percentage of registered voters will vote this season as have voted in the past. Tending to confirm the surveys’ findings, and the history, is my own experience at lunchtime on Friday, Oct. 23. That was when I voted. I was number 143 in the day’s cue. And all the chairs the Board of Elections people had set up for early voters waiting their turn that day were full.

Here’s how I voted in the tight races, and why.

For the Beaufort City Council — on which I served in various capacities for 16 years — I voted for Nan Sutton and David Taub. George O’Kelley is departing and with him will go the group’s best brain. Of those running, Taub offers the best replacement brain. For example, he has come up with a proposal to replace the ridiculous 2-percent franchise fee surcharge that City Council voted unanimously to levy city-wide to pay for burying the power lines on Boundary Street.

Some city council members serve for years and never come up with a proposal that can honestly be called their own. They just do what they’re told by the city manager except on those rare occasions when the public cries loudly enough to convince them their political self-protection requires them to oppose him.

In exchange for their fidelity to him the city manager tries to protect “his” council members from looking foolish in public. Taub won’t play that game. I can prove it. For the eight years he was mayor the city didn’t raise taxes — and city managers always want to raise taxes. I was there, and I know then-Beaufort City Manager Gary Cannon did.

In the South Carolina House District 124 race I voted for Shannon Erickson. Shannon’s a hard worker who is dedicated to constituent service.  And as a policymaker Shannon can be counted on to look out for South Carolina’s young people. That’s both good for our future … and unusual.

In the race next door: Broderick vs. Rivers for South Carolina House seat 121, I say Michael Rivers is needed where he is on the Beaufort County School Board where he keeps a close eye on Superintendent Jeff Moss. Mr. Moss is a highly-skilled politician in the sense that he is facile at keeping a majority of his board with him. Town managers, county administrators and school board superintendents all do this, if they wish to keep their jobs. But some are more brazen — which is to say they more obviously play favorites — than others. Superintendent Moss is one of the brazen ones.

Caught in September 2015 quietly changing the school district’s nepotism policy and putting his wife on the district’s payroll, Moss remarkably slipped the noose. (I’m sure it has cost us plenty.) Now he has concocted a scheme to separate the county’s residents and its visitors from about a quarter billion dollars to make capital improvements to the county’s schools.

The list of projects to be funded was developed with an eye to making the superintendent’s favorite school board members look good rather than the to-be-preferred steely resolve to serve the cause of educating the county’s children. Moreover, the flexibility that’s baked into the school board referenda (there are two) gives the superintendent and his board a majority that pretty nearly amounts to a blank check to chuck the list and use the quarter billion as they please. The clear message from the redoubtable superintendent to board members is: If you don’t stick with me, I’ll build a new coalition without you. And then you can watch your favorite projects slide into the ditch.

If you couldn’t tell, I voted No on both the school board measures.

But I said Yes to Beaufort County’s penny sales tax measure. Former Beaufort City Councilman Mike Sutton, Nan’s husband, who chaired the committee that wrote the list of projects, figured out how to rope me in. The results on Nov. 8 will tell us how many others were similarly lassoed.  Sutton managed to keep on the list a couple of million dollars for Beaufort’s beleaguered Southside Park. First Mayor Keyserling tried to sell the park. Then he proposed tilling it up and planting it in corn. Now, maybe, if the county’s long shot measure passes, the city can at last begin to try to make Mossy Oaks’ 18-plus acre neighborhood park into the premier city park it should be.

I have my fingers crossed.

My coal mine canary returns

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Photo above: At 4 a.m. the storm wobbled to the northwest and for 45 scary minutes Matthew’s eye headed straight for us.

By Bill Rauch

When the rain really started to come down at 3 p.m. Friday (Oct. 7) I watched my family — my wife, two boys, mother-in-law, three dogs — drive out the driveway.

After looking at the National Hurricane Center’s tracks, and hearing the governor, the president and the Weather Channel, I had decided to do what I have always done: ride it out.

It felt a little lonely watching them drive off.  But parting always does.

Frankly, there was less good reason to stay this time to visit firsthand with Matthew. In 1989, with Hugo bearing down on Beaufort, I had a newspaper, The Lowcountry Ledger, to look after. And as we all know, news and her deadlines come first.

In 1999, when Beaufort evacuated for Hurricane Floyd, I had a town — a great and delicate town — to look after. Only in extremis do mayors leave their towns.

Both times I never considered going.

But why stay now? It’s crazy. My grown children now living in New York, my sister, and several friends told me so … in no uncertain terms.

But not Beaufort people. They mostly said, “Sure, stay. That’s what I’m doing.”

What is it about New Yorkers who are so tough that they are so careful too? Everyone with whom I communicated Friday night who lives on Manhattan Island begged me to leave immediately for high ground. Maybe it’s that New Yorkers are a pretty smart bunch.

The evening started calmly enough. In fact, I called the family to say goodnight and turned in early. But then at 2:30 a.m. an odd thing happened … like a canary in a coal mine. The gas detector — the thing that hangs on the wall and sounds like a smoke detector — went off: “Beep” … “Beep” … “Beep.” First I thought I was dreaming it.  Then it woke me up.

May I say without my readers thinking me crazy that things like this used to happen when I lived in The Castle on Craven Street. It was always at night. A door would slam. A window would creak. I’d wake up, “What was that?” Then I’d hear my daughter in her crib who had the chicken pox crying … or a son sleepwalking. It was weird.

I don’t know why the gas alarm went off.  I had shut the gas to the whole house off. But I fumbled around with resetting it, and while I was up I thought I’d take a look outside.

I took the flashlight and went against the wind out to the porch and looked around. There was water everywhere! The house, up on 2-foot brick piers, was surrounded by water! I shined the light under the porch. There was water everywhere.

Amazingly, the lights were still on, so I fired up the laptop and looked up the tides: high tide would be at 2:49 a.m. So the water was definitely still rising.

When I was mayor I took a group of 115 intrepid volunteers down to Long Beach, Miss., to help that devastated town chainsaw out from under Katrina. Then after I was mayor I worked a couple of years for FEMA, helping mayors negotiate the byzantine FEMA post-disaster reimbursement process. So, as New Yorkers would say, “I know from floods.”

Now I was in for one. Between about 3 and 4 a.m., while the house still had lights, I moved things up onto beds onto tables onto shelves, wherever I could find a spot. It’s interesting what you choose. Here’s the priorities list: (1) favorite guns (2) anything to do with the children (3) family stuff, photo albums, etc. (4) everybody’s tennis rackets, sports equipment, shoes and boots (5) anything else of value.

Then, at 4 a.m. I found WSAV’s live stream — WSAV did an award-winning job and public service covering the storm — and their weather people said, “Matthew is still tracking due north and will make landfall between Tybee Island and Hilton Head Island.”

Whoa, I thought, that’s us!

Then the lights went out.

There’s lonely, and then there’s LONELY!

With my flashlight I checked the water level under the house. It was unchanged. The tide might be supposed to be going out, but it was clearly no match for the wind.

Back inside, in my mind I ran over my alternatives. That didn’t take long. There was only one: whether to put on my son’s old t-ball batting helmet that I had just dug out of the back of a closet. I thought, nah, and — having done what I could do —  settled into my favorite reading chair to listen to the majesty of the wind, and for the gurgle of the sea rising up through the floor boards.

It was so dark that there was absolutely no difference between having your eyes open or shut.

When I woke up, the water was running out of the yard.

Matthew had moved on.

On its sesquicentennial, Beaufort let Reconstruction slide

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
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Top photo: The legendary birthplace of Robert Smalls in the “slave cottage” at 508 Duke St. is not registered with the Secretary of the Interior, nor is there any plaque or sign at or near the house that might help visitors find it. Photo by Bill Rauch.

By Bill Rauch

When it comes to understanding the difference between talking about Beaufort’s Reconstruction past and actually doing something to emphasize it, I don’t think my friend David Lauderdale at The Island Packet has got it yet.

To educate themselves, here’s what I suggest he, and the others who think they’ve done a lot, consider doing.

First, they should go to the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce’s website and check out the “50 Things to do in Beaufort” section. There’s nothing there that might tip visitors to Beaufort’s  Reconstruction history.

Then, just to be sure, break out “Tours.” When you do that, here’s the clickable list that comes up in this order: “Historical Church self-guided tour,” “Captain Dick’s River Tour,” “Self-guided tree walk,” “Kazoo factory tour,” “Beaufort walking tour,” “Carriage tour,” and finally “Sunset harbor tour.”

If, as Lauderdale wrote on Sept. 25, Beaufort is the “cradle of African-American freedom,” and it is, a reasonable person might conclude the city’s designated marketing organization (for which it is paid $317,252.76 last year, according to the city manager) might emphasize that fact more than, say, a kazoo factory tour.

Or, Lauderdale could try this. Call the Visitor’s Center where they will probably tell him, as they told me, that there is a picture of Robert Smalls’ house in the chamber’s history museum (in the Beaufort Arsenal which the chamber of commerce rents from the city for $1 a year) upstairs from the Visitor’s Center.

The Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce, which the city of Beaufort also supports, isn’t much more helpful.

Its website does include a chronology that emphasizes Beaufort’s Reconstruction past, but for a visitor who wanted to actually find the few sites that are described there, there is little or no help provided.

Or, Lauderdale could try this. Congressman James Clyburn says Beaufort’s Robert Smalls is “the most consequential figure in Reconstruction history,” and indeed Lauderdale has got the story about Smalls being born a slave in the cottage behind the big house who later ended up buying the big house.

But here’s the thing: Go find the houses at 511 Prince St. and 508 Duke St.. The houses are there, but there’s no self-guided tour to show a visitor where to go to find them, and there are no plaques or other indications at the houses that might tell a visitor who Robert Smalls was and why his life was of significance.

By the way, Lauderdale’s dead wrong about this. In the story I wrote that appeared in The Atlantic recently, I didn’t write Beaufort’s “still pushing the story of the Lost Cause.” I didn’t write that because I don’t believe Beaufort’s “pushing” that story either. On the sesquicentennial of Reconstruction, when it comes to Civil War and Reconstruction era history, Beaufort’s just not marketing.

Here’s why: Van Willis in Port Royal said it best. Speaking of what Mayor Billy Keyserling told him, Willis told me: “Billy and his brother have a building they want the feds to buy to be the ‘Reconstruction Era Interpretive Center.’ What he told me was ‘I’m not doing Reconstruction as mayor, I’m doing it personally.’”

It shows.

SCE&G surcharge short-circuits Beaufort’s jobs initiative

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Top photo: To make complex (and boring) electrical base rates more understandable (and interesting) they are often shown in per thousand kilowatthour increments, as they are here, because a thousand kWhs is close to what a small household uses in an average month. 

Sources: The South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff website, The Palmetto Electric Cooperative Marketing Dept., and the minutes of the June 3, 2014 Beaufort City Council meeting.

By Bill Rauch

After my previous column about the city of Beaufort’s recent economic development spending spree I received an email from a reader that went like this: “Look at chart 5.6A for correct info then make a correction in the paper. S.C is actually lower than most Eastern states.”

A couple of things came to my mind. First, after reading that Beaufort’s general fund has increased by nearly a million dollars each year for the past seven years (from $13,913,341 to $19,387,961), and that the tax rate for city taxpayers – including businesses – has been raised virtually annually to pay for the new spending, and that to support the spending the city has imposed new fees too, and that the mayor who is leading the spending charge is also spending an additional quarter of a million dollars every four years to keep his $5,000-a-year job, what concerns this reader is that our electrical rates are lower than “most Eastern states?”

To me, that’s akin to saying, “Okay, so Kim Jong-un now has workable nuclear warheads, but my information on his ballistic missiles aren’t as accurate as you say they are.”

My next thought was … “most Eastern states?” What about Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and maybe Ohio? That’s who we’re competing against. The Northeast has been losing population and businesses for the past generation, and the high costs of living and doing business there are the leading reasons why.

And finally, my bet was the reader was confusing South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) rates with the blended base rates of all the utilities serving South Carolina. In fact that’s exactly what the referenced “chart 5.6A”

The website www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_5_6_a reflects the statewide average; and although South Carolina is high among the South Atlantic states at 12.68 cents per kilowatthour (kWh), it is, in fact, still lower than all the New England states.

The reader’s point is hereby acknowledged.

But here’s the thing: SCE&G’s current residential base rate is 14.37 cents per kWh, which makes it higher than the blended base rate of any state in the Southeast and in fact, Chart 5.6A shows, the closest states that have higher blended base rates are Maryland to the north, Michigan to the northwest, and California to the west.

That’s bad.

Then add to SCE&G’s sky-high rate the city of Beaufort’s 2-percent surcharge on top of the standard 5-percent franchise fee and you have an actual residential rate in Beaufort of 15.72 cents per kWh.

Between SCE&G’s efforts and those of the Beaufort City Council, at 15.72 cents per kWh the city of Beaufort is a tiny island in all the Southeast that has the highest investor-owned electricity rates this side of New York, Michigan and California.

It’s no secret that businesses seeking to relocate, or start-up, look at utility costs. It’s a line on every pro forma. The importance of the line to decision-making depends upon how much electricity the business is expecting to use. Law offices don’t use much electricity. Digital businesses use more. And manufacturing companies like those Beaufort would like to attract to its Commerce Park typically use even more.

Yet in the 10 pages of adopted minutes that reflect the discussion of the 2-percent franchise fee surcharge at the Beaufort City Council’s June 3, 2014, special meeting, there is no reference to any discussion at that meeting of how the surcharge might affect the city’s economic development efforts.

This city administration (Mayor Keyserling who is most often joined in these votes by Councilmembers McFee and Murray) says it is committed to creating jobs so that Beaufort’s young people don’t have to move away to get good work. Sounds good. But the results haven’t matched up to the big talk (and big spending), and making the same mistakes New England has made probably won’t make things better.

Blakely Williams, the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce’s savvy president and CEO, didn’t return repeated phone calls last week. Why would she? The city of Beaufort is one of the chamber’s chief funders. The question I left on her voicemail was: “Hi Blakely. Just need a quick comment on the success or lack thereof of the city of Beaufort’s economic development efforts, the Commerce Park, the Digital Corridor, etc. …”

Our mothers’ wisely taught us, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

The savvy Ms. Williams, it seems, learned her lesson better than this writer.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

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