Bringing Our Community Together

Category archive

Bill Rauch

County 2017 opioid deaths up sharply from 2016

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by

By Bill Rauch

The opioid epidemic has come to Beaufort County.

While the 2017 final numbers are still preliminary, the Beaufort County Coroner’s Office says there were 22 opioid-related deaths in the county last year, nearly three times the eight homicides the Coroner’s Office has recorded preliminarily for 2017. 

This is the first time Beaufort County opioid-related deaths have exceeded Beaufort County homicides. What’s worse is that the number of opioid-related deaths here nearly tripled last year from the eight that were recorded in 2016. 

Moreover, the sheriff’s office says that since the sheriff ordered his deputies to be trained in the use of Narcan, the department is known to have saved three lives last year by administering the drug on site. 

It is unknown how many more lives were saved from opioid overdoses at the emergency rooms in the county. Medical professionals say that number is increasing dramatically as well.

Previous to 2016 there were so few deaths attributable to opioid abuse that neither the Beaufort County Coroner’s Office nor the South Carolina Department of Environmental Control (DHEC) tracked them as a group.

Why is this epidemic suddenly upon us, and what can be done to prevent these tragedies?

Let’s start with the source of the drugs. 

While doctors derive no financial benefit from prescribing narcotics (opioids), healthcare professionals say it is not uncommon for their own convenience and for the convenience of their patients for doctors to offer patients facing short-term pain medium-term pain relief medications. 

Often — but not always — in Beaufort County these medium-term pain prescriptions are written in emergency rooms or in the offices of oral and orthopedic surgeons. An example would be a 30-day supply of Percocet after a tooth is pulled or a broken bone is set.

Standard stuff, right?

But patients react differently to pain and to pain medications, and sometimes most of these pills end up in family medicine cabinets where they can then be abused by children, children’s friends, spouses, cleaning ladies or anyone else who might happen to open the family medicine chest. 

Opioid addiction, especially when its origins are with prescription medications, knows no racial, social or economic bounds.

Often it is in the family medicine cabinet, health professionals say, that the road to addiction begins — sometimes with as little as a week’s supply of a narcotic.

The end of the road can come quickly, especially for those who, once addicted, find a way to gain access to Fentanyl, a strong narcotic that is often used in a 72-hour patch for hospice patients, but which can by addicts be extracted from the patch and injected via a hypodermic needle.

About one in three of the lethal opioid overdoses the Beaufort County Coroner saw last year were the result of Fentanyl use, the coroner’s office said recently.

But what can be done?

Several things, experts say, especially in the area of prevention, and luckily a good start can be made when there’s willingness at the state and local levels.

South Carolina already has in place a Prescription Monitoring System that was designed to alert doctors to patients who are receiving narcotics from more than one prescriber. 

Before prescribing a narcotic doctors are supposed to consult the system to check on what other narcotics that patient might be receiving from other sources. But, healthcare professionals say that system could easily be used also to track which doctors are prescribing what may be excessive doses of narcotics.

No one is doing that now.

In Northern Beaufort County, where most of the doctors are closely aligned with Beaufort Memorial Hospital, the hospital administrators could call these doctors in for close questioning about their narcotics-prescribing practices. The hospital also has access to local doctors’ electronic medical records that in theory contain the same information.

At the same time the South Carolina State Legislature could follow North Carolina’s lead and take a look at opening the door to doctors and pharmacies engaging together in the “staging” of prescriptions for narcotics. 

In this protocol, a patient who is prescribed a 30-day supply of Percocet might, for example, be required to return to the pharmacy every three days for another 72 hours’ supply of the narcotic. This protocol, experts say, would cut down on the large caches of narcotics, paid for by health insurance but found to be unneeded by the patient, that sit waiting to be abused in family medicine cabinets.

Also, those familiar with hospital practices say, in the light of the current epidemic, emergency room practices need reexamination. There, it is said, some repeat patients seek to intimidate doctors into prescribing for them opioid-based medications like Percocet or OxyContin, both potentially highly addictive.

To prevent these unfortunate confrontations that sometimes lead to doctors writing prescriptions under duress. There is clearly need, for example, for Beaufort Memorial Hospital to work more closely with the city of Beaufort Police Department so that when after such a confrontation a prescription has been refused, a police officer is readily on hand to walk the unruly patient to their ride, and make sure they take it.

A report released by the White House last month put the annual costs of the opioid epidemic at the $500 billion-plus level. Considerations such as lost productivity, healthcare costs and costs to the judicial systems were taken into account for the study.   

That nearly 64,000 American lives were lost in 2015 to opioid addiction-related causes was noted in the report, as was the impossibility of adequately placing a dollar value on those 64,000 individual tragedies.

The stakes are obviously very high here — and growing.

Driving the stakes higher still is that second chances are few because the road back from opioid addiction is famously treacherous, a fact of life that places still more burden upon the success of prevention efforts.

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

2018 shapes up big for Port Royal

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
Porter's Chapel

Photo above: Port Royal will move the Porter’s Chapel A.M.E. Church from its present location at Old Shell Road and 16th Street to the town’s Naval Heritage Park on Ribaut Road, where it will be restored. The historic building, saved from demolition six months ago, will, in its new location, serve as Port Royal’s hub for the new U.S. Parks Service Reconstruction Monument Heritage Trail. Photo courtesy of the Town of Port Royal.

By Bill Rauch

After 13 years of waiting, Port Royal finally has a port deal, and 2018 is when the town expects to see the long-awaited benefits start to show themselves. The Dockside Restaurant will re-open in June and the town is working with the developers on sidewalk, promenade and Spanish Moss Trail access plans, Town Manager Van Willis says. 

There will be more announcements of plans soon, the town says, improvements that will transform Port Royal’s waterfront into a regional attraction.  

That’s big, but it’s not all.

Beginning Jan. 1, the town’s fire department — which is operated jointly with Beaufort — will expand into a new, temporary firehouse on Robert Smalls Parkway in the old Barrier Island Boat dealership. A new permanent firehouse, a couple of hundred yards down S.C. 170 towards Beaufort from the temporary one, is on the way. The builders poured the concrete for the slab last week. The expected move-in date there is Aug. 1.

Staking its claim to being the primary fire service provider for the newly annexed and developed neighborhoods in the Shell Point to Habersham area, the new station is located almost exactly in the center of the triangle formed by the Burton Fire District’s Shell Point, Habersham and Burton Hill stations.

There’s more.

In the upcoming year the town will also relocate the old Porter’s Chapel A.M.E. Church to the Naval Heritage Park, restore the building and open it as a tribute to the life and legacy of Sen. Clemente Pinckney, who pastored there from 1996-1998.

Sen. Pinckney, who represented portions of Beaufort County in the South Carolina State Senate, was the pastor of Charleston’s Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church when he was gunned down with eight of his parishioners in June 2015 by a white supremacist during an evening Bible study session in the sanctuary of the beloved Charleston church.

The restored Porter’s Chapel will also serve as the Port Royal hub of the Beaufort County Reconstruction Monument, the place where Port Royal’s rich Reconstruction history will be told.

That’s big too, but there’s still more.

Since there’s more and more sizzle each year in the town, the once-sleepy burg now needs public parking. So the town’s FY’18 budget indicates next year Port Royal will spend upwards of a million dollars providing for public parking. 

With the town’s growing Soft Shell Crab, Oktoberfest, Street Music, Farmer’s Market and Christmas events, that will be barely enough to accommodate the growing crowds.

Yes, the town is on the traffic control job too. Their engineers are working with the county to smooth out the right turn lane from Ribaut Road onto the McTeer Bridge.

But the big picture issue — the third crossing of the Beaufort River — remains unaddressed by Beaufort County, the City of Beaufort and the Town of Port Royal. Until it is, through traffic on Ribaut Road in Port Royal, and on Boundary Street, Carteret Street and Ribaut Road in Beaufort will become only more burdensome. 

At this writing the three governments don’t even have an agreed-upon plan for addressing their relentlessly growing traffic needs. That’s not Port Royal’s fault. It’s Beaufort that’s been equivocating while Beaufort and Port Royal’s transportation money gets spent in Bluffton.

Why? One of the more influential ole boys on City Council, it is said, has friends who live along the proposed Brickyard corridor, and they wish not to see it improved.

Workforce housing’s on the town’s plate too.

Port Royal has recently participated in several tax credit apartment building projects in Shell Point and along Ribaut Road, pretty much maxing out their ability to use that funding mechanism again for several years. 

When the 25 units in the Marsh Pointe Apartments that are now under construction across Ribaut Road from the Naval Heritage Park are completed, the town will have in the last few years participated in the completion of about 250 units of workforce housing.

And that’s just the beginning of the residential building in what has become one of the South’s most dynamic small towns … a small town that’s not so small any more.

Next year will probably see yet another milestone for the town. Although it may take until 2020 for the numbers to be formalized by the U.S. Census Bureau, 2018 will probably be the year when little Port Royal’s population exceeds that of the City of Beaufort, the town’s longtime big next door neighbor.

The two municipalities plan together and fight fires together now. In 2018 they should take another look at the benefits to their taxpayers of consolidating other services, especially, for starters, solid waste collection, recycling and parks maintenance.

The obvious benefit of the two municipalities now being about the same size is that no longer is one the other’s big brother. If the two can find ways to contain their egos, climb out of the weeds, think ahead, quit worrying about whether their friends are benefiting enough or not, and work together as equals, there could be big benefits in the years ahead for both municipalities’ taxpayers.

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

County leaders struggle to achieve consensus

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by

By Bill Rauch

Among executive sessions, the Beaufort County Council’s Oct. 4 work session was a doozey. 

That was the closed door meeting where the full council interviewed Daniel J. Alfonzo, W. Anthony McDonald and Josh Gruber in advance of their attempting to choose one of the three to fill the vacancy left by County Administrator Gary Kubic, who had the previous month cleaned out his desk and returned to Ohio to attend to pressing family business.

Hilton Head Island Town Manager Steve Riley had been on the headhunter’s list, but he had recently withdrawn his name. Alfonzo was then and still is the city manager of Miami. McDonald had recently left a three-year stint as Richland County’s administrator. And Gruber was Beaufort County’s deputy administrator, having been hand-picked by Gary Kubic several years before.

The county had paid Slavin Management Consultants of Norcross, Ga., about $25,000 for their professional services plus expenses to develop the list of four.

According to several council members who attended the session, on his way out the door Kubic had spoken to the council members one-by-one, saying that Gruber, a lawyer who had by then prepared three complete county budgets, hired six county department heads and was conducting searches for three more, and dealt with a host of other politically ticklish issues, was, at age 36, ready for the top job.

Some agreed with him, others weren’t so sure.

Unlike Alfonso and McDonald who were unknowns, the council members had a history with Gruber. He had prosecuted, for example, on behalf of a majority of council, a couple of dangerous dog cases where the dogs’ owners were required to obtain $50,000 in liability insurance on the dogs or face charges, opinions that drew passionate objections from dog-loving council members. 

It had also been Gruber who on behalf of the county took on the county’s 13 part-time magistrates over the issue of their receiving full county-paid health insurance coverage when the county’s other 150 part-time workers were denied the benefit. That issue too split council. 

And, perhaps most divisive, Gruber represented the county in the court of public opinion as the County Council first voted unanimously to deny health insurance to some of its retirees. 

But then, caving to criticism, some council members then changed their votes, leaving Gruber once again to carry the ball for a thin majority. 

There were other controversies as well, mostly ones related to appointments to boards and commissions where candidates that council members favored for one reason or another didn’t get the nod.

Some of those wounds were still raw on Oct. 4.

After the interviews, Chairman Paul Sommerville dismissed everyone but the other 10 council members from the room. Then the 11 elected officials had it out over the single issue that is of the utmost personal and political importance to them: Who among the three could they trust to fairly implement the directives they would promulgate in the upcoming years? What if they didn’t yet have the full support of council behind their issue? What would he do? How tall would he stand? Who among the three could they count on to work with them, to stand by them, maybe even to carry some water for them as they sought to advance their own agendas?

After a tough discussion of pros and cons, Sommerville went around the table asking each council member to express his or her preference so that the leadership could gain “a sense of council.”  

When each had spoken it was clear there was no consensus, there was no agreement among the group. Seeing that Gruber was close to gaining what could be considered a thin majority, Sommerville asked if anyone who hadn’t jumped before wanted now to jump onto the Gruber train. None spoke up. 

The jury was hung and $25,000 of the taxpayers’ dollars were out the door.

A couple of days later council members Rick Caporale and Steve Fobes shared a cup of coffee at the Indigo Run Barnes & Noble latte parlor that has become the successor 21st century version of the “smoked filled back room” for Hilton Head Island pols since the Atlanta Bread Company (“ABC”) closed. 

The two decided there, Councilman Caporale explained last week, that “the process needed to be rebooted. We agreed,” he recounted, “that Slavin had done a poor job.” 

At the next county council meeting, again in executive session, the two made their case that Slavin should be ditched and a majority of council concurred.

Councilman Steve Fobes did not return calls, but other council members confirmed Caporale’s version of the events.

But how then to proceed?

A few weeks of internal discussions then ensued during which council considered that since Gruber was now acting administrator and as such the one who instructs the county’s attorneys, how could the county’s attorneys be asked to write an unbiased request for proposals (RFP) for a new search firm? 

Finally another one of the group, Councilman Brian Flewelling, who represents County Council on the Lowcountry Council of Governments (LCOG) board suggested the COG be brought in to write the RFP and to circulate it.

In one-on-one phone calls, a majority of council was able to agree on that approach and on Nov. 20 County Council entered into a contract with the COG the provisions of which state that for $12,500 the COG will write up and circulate an RFP that solicits proposals from search firms, and bring all the candidates back to County Council for their evaluation in February 2018. 

The contract with the COG contains a “tentative schedule” that suggests a new search firm will be in place on March 1.

Lowcountry Council of Governments Executive Director Sabrena P. Graham didn’t return calls requesting clarification of the details of the COG’s efforts, specifically whether the COG had issued the RFP, as the contract’s tentative schedule suggests they should have by last week, or whether their efforts are already behind schedule.

Others say the COG’s schedule is optimistic. Council Finance Committee Chairman Jerry Stewart, for example, who favors tapping Gruber for the top job now, predicts that at this rate it will be the end of the summer and at least another $60,000 after the COG is paid before a new administrator is in place. That is just to pay for the newly-initiated search process. 

“This process is costly and a waste of time,” he observed last week. “ Josh is there. He wants the job. He’s doing the job. Gary did a hell of a job hiring good people, and he supports Josh. What’s the problem here?”

Ironically it appears the biggest thing keeping Gruber from being formally tapped for the top job is exactly that: that he’s already doing the job. Councilman York Glover, for example, took pains to reassure me last week “that Josh is serving as interim.”

Councilman Caporale who could with a phone call get Gruber the job told me last week: “There’s no urgency. Josh is there. He’s handling everything. He’s a smart guy.”

A third who could provide the swing vote, Councilman Flewelling, agreed, using almost the same words. “There’s no real urgency,” he explained to me last week. 

“Any of the day-to-day operations can be handled by Josh. What we’re not sure of is his ability to bring us the long-term planning expertise we’re looking for.”

That too is ironic, of course, because it was Kubic’s decision to elevate Gruber to deputy county administrator in 2014 that allowed Kubic to get out of the weeds and start thinking big picture.

Besides the new $75,000 to pay the COG and the new search firm, what might be other costs of keeping Gruber in his present interim status for the next nine months to a year, I asked. 

From the council members I got two answers. (1) Gruber might take another job elsewhere where he is assured more job security. He has, after all, requested twice to be considered for the top job in other counties, and (2) while he is in interim status he has no deputy and thus cannot get out of the day-to-day weeds and focus on the county’s long-term needs any more that Kubic could before he elevated Gruber. 

The county’s leadership thus must face the real possibility of their being seen as “just treading water” for most of 2018, which for some is an election year.

Sommerville, a longtime Gruber supporter, characteristically tries to find the common ground. “When the disarray manifests itself I ask, ‘Where can we find consensus?’ ” he said last week.

He was answered concisely by council member Alice Howard, nearing the end of her first four-year term and also a Gruber supporter. 

“After 3 1/2 years of working with and watching Josh,” she told me last week, “I don’t know any reason why he couldn’t ultimately be the consensus candidate.”

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

How should society deal with mass shootings?

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy
Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy

By Bill Rauch

As the tolls from mass shootings in the U.S. escalate (the death toll is twice in 2017 what it was in 2016) the proposed remedies from lawmakers continue to fall tediously into two categories. 

Republicans focus on the mental health problems from which the shooters are said to suffer, and Democrats focus on stricter gun control measures. 

There is today no consensus on what to do to confront what has become a national epidemic.

Our local law enforcement professionals are an exquisite case in point. Last week I sent an eight yes/no-question questionnaire to the five men we count most upon to keep our community safe: Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, Jasper County Sheriff Christopher Malphrus, Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy, Bluffton Police Chief Joseph Manning and Port Royal Police Chief of Police Col. T. Alan Beach.

Only one — Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy — would go on the record with his responses.

Why?

Because this is controversial stuff and — like the lawmakers in Washington, Columbia and elsewhere — in the absence of a clear way forward they prefer to avoid the controversy.

So what were the eight questions four out of five of the pros chose to duck?

Here they are:

1. Several of those who have recently engaged in mass shootings told psychologists that they have regular “homicidal thoughts,” but the psychologists didn’t tell anyone in law enforcement. Should it be required that such information be shared with law enforcement?

Chief Clancy answered YES, observing that “psychological issues are the one common factor in these crimes.” Clearly in my view to prevent future occurrences the medical and law enforcement communities must work together more closely. I have no problem with professional consequences for those who fail to cooperate with law enforcement. Government has already placed way too much mental health work in the laps of our police officers and those in the corrections community. The relationship should be a two-way street.

2. Had the Air Force notified the National Instant Criminal Background Check System of the Texas shooter’s criminal background, he’d have been prevented from purchasing legally the firearm he used in the church. Should there be criminal penalties for those failing to make such notifications?

Chief Clancy chose the word “oversight” over “criminal penalties.” My experience in government causes me to believe there’s a paper trail that leads to the desk of the person in the Air Force who should have made the notification that instead “slipped through the cracks.” A little jail time for a couple of bureaucrats who let the wrong one slip, and there’ll be a lot less slipping. Let’s not forget, the lives of innocent women and children have been lost because someone somewhere neglected to file the proper paper. The Texas church was not the first time. 

The Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in which our Clemente Pinckney lost his life was also conducted with a military style fully automatic firearm that the shooter would have been forbidden from purchasing had the proper papers been filed. 

Last week, providing a glimmer of hope in the area of a bi-partisan approach to the epidemic, Sen. Tim Scott and seven of his colleagues (four of them Democrats) introduced a bill that would do some of this. I favor it, but am under few illusions it will become law. 

3. Should the sale and use of assault weapons be banned except for their use by law enforcement and the military? 

Chief Clancy believes fully automatic rifles are sufficiently regulated. I say until the reporting side gets better about notifications slipping through the cracks (what lawyers call “negligent entrustment”) the stakes are too high. In 2014, one in five of the police officers who were killed in the line of duty was shot with an assault rifle. 

Having used automatic weapons on the target range, I freely admit they’re a kick to use, and tens of thousands of responsible Americans use them responsibly every weekend. Bring back their sale when the system works better.

4. Should high capacity magazines be banned except for use by law enforcement and the military? 

Chief Clancy says NO. I respectfully disagree. Bring them back when the system works better.

5. Should bump stocks be illegal?

 Chief Clancy says they should be regulated under the National Firearms Act. That would be a good start.

6. Should Muslim extremist groups be more closely monitored and their sympathizers be banned from entering the U.S.? 

Chief Clancy says YES, adding that he would expand the ban to “all terrorist groups of foreign or domestic origin.” 

I agree, and appreciate the chief’s religious sensitivity. We end up in pretty much the same place. To quote a recent story in The Orange County Register: “… let’s not pretend we don’t know who attacked the Pulse nightclub, Fort Hood, two Chattanooga military bases, the Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino or who drove the deadly truck in New York City. The answer is Muslim immigrants or first-generation Muslims radicalized by Islamist extremist groups.”

7. Should the entertainment studios and video game manufacturers that portray for-profit gun violence be held criminally liable when it can be shown that their message contributed materially to a shooter’s decision to kill? 

Chief Clancy says YES, adding that these prosecutions have to date all failed. I say, take heart, plaintiff lawyers. Remember Big Tobacco!

8. Should we celebrate news organizations that at the expense of lower ratings neither profile nor even use the names of mass murderers? 

This is a tough one for both Chief Clancy and me. The chief notes that “giving these killers attention is counterproductive.” Everyone with any sense agrees with him.  

But in a free society with a free press, how can reporting on events such as mass killings — events with which the public is clearly fascinated — be curtailed? 

The only idea I have heard that addresses this obvious need is that there be a “gentleman’s agreement” among news organizations not to use the names, nor do profiles of the individuals, who commit these crimes. Reporters would instead refer to these individuals as, for example, “The alleged Mother Emanuel AME church shooter” when reporting on the tragedy.

Reporters, gentlemen? I can say this because I got my first job as a newspaper reporter when I was 17. Did you ever eat with one?

But Beaufort Police Chief Matthew J. Clancy?

Yes.

And a stand-up guy too.

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

Long-term plan is already in crisis management

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
There are already more Hardeeville city votes in Sun City North (the portion of Sun City that is located in Jasper County) than in all the rest of Hardeeville. This chart from the City of Hardeeville’s website shows that will soon be changing.
There are already more Hardeeville city votes in Sun City North (the portion of Sun City that is located in Jasper County) than in all the rest of Hardeeville. This chart from the City of Hardeeville’s website shows that will soon be changing.

By Bill Rauch

A version of the notorious public company “quarter-to-quarter mentality” exists in local government. It goes something like this: “If the results cannot be seen by the next time I have to run, then I don’t really care about it.”

It is the prevalence of this status quo-preserving mindset among elected officials that accounts for why long-term planning is left to staffers and relegated almost always to the back burner. 

When the staff report finally gets presented to the elected officials, they nod cheerfully saying, “That’s very good work and good to know,” and then they groan: “But gosh doing that would be so expensive! Why, we had no idea. Where would we get all that money?”

At that the plan is put on the shelf to be admired occasionally when its name gets called.

Yes, there are exceptions. Mostly exceptions occur when officials learn a tsunami is coming.

A tsunami is coming.

It is headed for U.S. 278 between S.C. 170 and I-95.

Why?

Because a decade ago — just before the hard times — the City of Hardeeville annexed virtually all the timberland tracts that lay along that corridor, and with developers negotiated development agreements for these lands that, when they are built out will, according to Hardeeville City Manager Michael J. Czymbor’s estimate last week, put about 60,000 new residential units into communities that will feed into U.S. 278 along that corridor. Not to mention the shopping centers. That’s several Sun Cities. That’s a couple of Blufftons on steroids. Latitudes Margaritaville is just the flashy opening act.

Bringing additional seriousness to the matter is that the Jasper Port’s leadership says their facility will provide 900 construction jobs between now and when it opens 10-12 years from now, and a million jobs by 2040. That’s a lot of containers going somewhere … on roads that are not even dirt roads today.

All these big numbers have gotten the attention of the governments, most notably Hardeeville, Bluffton and Beaufort County. But Hilton Head Island, Ridgeland and Jasper County are also watching.

In a commendable effort to work toward regional solutions, Hardeeville’s mayor, Harry Williams, has pulled representatives of all these governments into a group called SoLoCo for the Southern Lowcountry Regional Board. In this, he says, he has been ably assisted by Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka and Beaufort County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville.

The group has begun sharing data and ideas on population projections, stormwater management, estuary preservation, venue shopping, vocational education, workforce housing and water and sewer needs. They say they are laying off transportation issues for the time being because another more formal group, the Lowcountry Area Transportation Study that works through the Lowcountry Council of Governments, is supposed to be working on those needs.

All this will have a familiar ring to longtime residents. It is reminiscent of the years after Beaufort County green-lighted Sun City Hilton Head. In those days plans for schools, roads and drainage improvements were initiated that regular readers of this column know have now cost taxpayers about a half billion dollars to build.

Hilton Head: This is what your success looks like.

Sun City Hilton Head — located of course many miles from Hilton Head Island — was a summer afternoon boomer compared to the tsunami that’s blowing down Hardeeville’s pipeline.

How will Hilton Head Island residents get to I-95? Hardeeville has plans to improve the interchanges at miles 5 and 8 on I-95, but there are no plans to improve — much less pay for — the corridors to those interchanges. Hilton Head’s preferred route, Exit 3, to be reached by an extension of the Bluffton Parkway, “has no viable legs at this time,” Hilton Head Town Manager Steve Riley said last week.

How will we keep the Okatie, the May River and Calibogue Sound vibrant? Who will build all this public and private infrastructure, and where will their children be educated?  

SoLoCo’s planning efforts are, as is all-too-often the case in government, crisis management. And, unfortunately for the taxpayers, we won’t have the luxury of putting their plans on the shelf.

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

A good year for the grapple guys

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
Self-loaders lined up at the Naples, Fla., Debris Recovery Site known as "Recovery," where they unload their vegetative debris in advance of its being ground into mulch and sold for biofuel.
Self-loaders lined up at the Naples, Fla., Debris Recovery Site known as “Recovery,” where they unload their vegetative debris in advance of its being ground into mulch and sold for biofuel.

By Bill Rauch

In adversity there is always opportunity. The post-hurricane brand of adversity brings opportunity for three groups: landscapers, roofers and debris removal specialists.

Landscapers stay pretty local, roofers sometimes travel a hundred miles or so to set up their temporary shops, but debris removal specialists come from thousands of miles around. These are the enormous trucks and trailers with the hydraulic arm and claw situated at the rear of the truck’s high-walled bed with which debris can be picked up from the curbside and loaded into both the truck and the trailer. 

Most of the time these behemoths work in the land-clearing business, but they can make a lot more money cleaning up after hurricanes, and in the days and months after hurricanes they come from far and wide to help out … and to make those big bucks.

There are about 300 self-loaders east of the Mississippi River, according to a story that ran in the Houston Chronicle in September as Houston was cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey and Florida was preparing to do the same in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

With all of the damage from Harvey, Irma and then Nate, this year the self-loaders have been in short supply.  That’s what the Houston Chronicle story was about: Texas’ fears that Florida was paying better rates and that therefore the self-loaders would be passing Houston by. The effect of that, it was feared, was that Houston’s clean-up would be slowed down, which would not only anger residents but could put Houston in the position of running past the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) 180-day limit after which, in Houston’s case, the federal government would no longer pay 90 percent of the cost of the clean-up.

Citizen complaints are one thing, but losing the federal match inevitably means a big one-time tax increase, a tax levy that comes when taxpayers are already financially stressed from dealing with the storm’s destructive — and expensive — wrath.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner faced the challenge doing the only thing he could do: He offered to pay the debris removal contractors more, thus in effect putting himself into a bidding war with some Florida communities. A few of those communities — including Naples, Fla. — answered the challenge by increasing their own per cubic yard debris removal rates. 

Debris removal rates are typically set long before the hurricane comes. Communities negotiate contracts with a general debris removal contractor who then hires in the days after the storm dozens of sub-contractors from as far away as Wisconsin, Minnesota and Maine. In Houston’s case the general contractor was DRC Emergency Services.  Naples used AshBritt, a firm made famous by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie when, seeing his state was unprepared the day in 2012 that Hurricane Sandy moved on, he hired them that day for $100 million on a controversial no-bid basis.

But, according to truckers, the sweetest place to work this year was in the City of Key West, Fla. That’s not because Key West paid a handsomer base rate than any other community. According to Gary Volenec, the city’s engineer, Key West is paying $7.14 per cubic yard to AshBritt for debris removal which is just a little above average. Naples, Fla.’s base rate was $5.50, but the city council there recently added sweeteners that nearly doubled that rate. The City of Victoria, Texas, renegotiated after the storm with their contractor, AshBritt, to get to a $6-$10.65 rate. But Harris County, Texas — the county in which Houston is situated — stuck at $4.15 per cubic yard.  The clean-up there is progressing, but slowly.   

By way of comparison, after Hurricane Matthew last year Beaufort County paid a base rate of $8.29 per cubic yard to its contractor, Ceres Environmental. The contractor picked up and disposed of about 1,650,000 cubic yards of debris just under FEMA’s required 180-day deadline for providing matching funds, which in Beaufort County’s case was 75 percent, according to Eric Larson, Beaufort County’s Solid Waste and Stormwater manager. The State of South Carolina is picking up the remaining 25 percent of FEMA-eligible costs, county officials said.

So, why do the truckers prefer the Key West work?

Here’s how it works. Once the debris is picked up at curbsde it is taken to the city’s Temporary Debris Management Site where it is ground into mulch. But because Key West is just about built out, there is nowhere to put the mulch. Instead, from there the mulch must be trucked at a cost of $17.75 per cubic yard 125 miles to a landfill on the mainland just south of Homestead, Fla. Here’s the math on that. Let’s say the truck holds 75 cubic yards in the front and 65 cubic yards in its trailer. Ashbritt would be paid $2,485 per load with the trucker receiving about 85 percent of that payment or about $2,112 per trip up and back U.S.1. An owner-driver could make the trip on an average twice a day, although some  trucking companies used tag-team drivers so they could operate virtually around the clock, enjoying also the easier and more economical traffic flows on the narrow road in the middle of the night.

Of that $2,485 payment, if the paperwork is kept to FEMA standards, all but $621.25 will be reimbursed to Key West by the federal government. The State of Florida hasn’t yet said if they’ll pick up the $621.25, e.g. the remaining 25 percent.

One trucker — in from Alabama to help with the Collier County, Fla., clean-up — told me last week, “Yeah, this work’s OK … better than clearing land.  I’m netting about $2,000 a day. But if my truck hadn’t broke down I could have been working in Key West.  My buddy got there in time.  He’s making $50,000 a week.”

At that rate a trucker could pay for a new rig in three to four weeks. And have a few dollars left over for steak and beer.

It’s been a good year for the grapple guys.

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

There’s good reason to ‘winter’ in Florida this year

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
The guys with the big black trucks and trailers and claw arms are independent contractors who are known by the insiders as “storm chasers.” Because of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey there are fewer of them to go around to gather up the debris left behind by Irma and Nate. Accordingly, the clean-ups for those hurricanes will be slower than usual. Photo provided.
The guys with the big black trucks and trailers and claw arms are independent contractors who are known by the insiders as “storm chasers.” Because of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey there are fewer of them to go around to gather up the debris left behind by Irma and Nate. Accordingly, the clean-ups for those hurricanes will be slower than usual. Photo provided.

By Bill Rauch

The freedom to go where you please when it pleases you to go there is one of the many benefits of post-mayoral life.

Those who know me well will not be surprised by this story.

Last week when the opportunity arose I packed up and headed down to Collier County, Fla., the place on the Florida mainland that was hardest hit by Hurricane Irma. 

At 2,305 square miles, Collier County is by acreage the largest county in the lower 48. It runs from Everglades National Park in its southeast corner to the town of Bonita Springs in the north along the Gulf coast. The towns of Everglades City, Marco Island, Naples and Ft. Myers are all here. 

When Hurricane Irma came ashore in Collier County a month ago she was a Cat 4, just like Hurricane Hugo in Charleston in 1989. The Naples Airport recorded sustained winds of 142 mph last month. The recorded sustained winds attributed to Hugo were 140 mph.

Collier County faces many challenges, not the least of which is working well and closely with a stretched-thin FEMA. 

In this year of astonishing back-to-back natural disasters, the story is still the same. It is the big cities, Houston, San Juan and New Orleans that get the attention. But it’s in the smaller cities and towns and out in the countryside where the agonizing and sustained hurt is. Just ask Hilton Head Island if the vestiges of Matthew still haunt.

But that’s the way FEMA’s executives think and the network executives are right there with them. I guess you can’t blame them.  The big cities are where the votes are … and the ratings.

But even if there hasn’t been much about it on cable news, Collier County is a major disaster area.

I may be here a while, and this column may not appear as regularly as it has in the past.

But I promise to keep you posted.

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

The Digital Corridor: swimming against the tide

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
This photo was taken last week at the Commerce Park. The city proudly says it has set aside the money to mow the Commerce Park four times in FY’18. A mowing schedule like that would get a POA member brought up on charges. Photo by Bill Rauch.
This photo was taken last week at the Commerce Park. The city proudly says it has set aside the money to mow the Commerce Park four times in FY’18. A mowing schedule like that would get a POA member brought up on charges. Photo by Bill Rauch.

By Bill Rauch

One of the Charleston-based consultants that the city of Beaufort has retained to market its Digital Corridor contacted me last week asking to have breakfast and talk about the city’s economic development efforts. 

Kindly, he said he was doing so because I am a former mayor and “a guy who loves Beaufort.” All true.

We haven’t had our breakfast together yet, but here’s what I’ll say to him.

The Beaufort City Council made his job. But they didn’t make it easy.

They have got the trend lines in five key areas — safety, costs, the smell of success, community excitement and hope — all moving in the wrong direction.

Last week’s ARMED ROBBERIES at Smoker’s Express and of a man who was pistol-whipped as he got his mail from his Mossy Oaks mailbox speak clearly to safety. 

In recent years City Council has routinely so underfunded the city’s police department that, local law enforcement professionals say, Beaufort is now once again the drug-dealing capitol of Northern Beaufort County.

From 1994-2008 the city’s then award-winning community policing efforts — initiated by Mayor David Taub in 1993 and implemented by Police Chiefs Bill Neill and Jeff Dowling— ran the drug dealers out  of town. No, there were not BACK-TO-BACK ARMED ROBBERIES in Beaufort in those years.

But Mayor Keyserling’s Councils have deemphasized support for the police department, and the drug dealers, who are the ultimate opportunists, saw their chance, returned, and brought with them the violent property crimes that always follow them.

Not convinced? Take a look at the numbers. In the last eight years in-city police calls for service have tripled, but the number of officers assigned to handle them has remained unchanged.  That means Beaufort’s police officers no longer have the time to get out of their cruisers and talk to people. They are racing from call to call. Policing in Beaufort is thus now reactive. Yet law enforcement professionals say in unison that it is proactive policing — often called “community policing” — that prevents crime. We don’t have that anymore.

That is clearly not good for — among other things — the city’s economic development efforts. Everyone, except a bail bondsman who is considering starting a new business, looks for a safe area in which to do so.

Council members wonder why the city’s population is decreasing. They think it’s because there are no good jobs and that they’ll work to get jobs for the city’s young people. Here’s a tip. Don’t try to make the jobs, try to make the climate one that is conductive to job-creation. Smart gardeners don’t spend a lot of money buying exotic plants and then bring them home and plant them in the wrong soil. The part that needs the work is the soil.

Work on cutting taxes. Shed the programs that haven’t worked. Start-ups look for jurisdictions where costs are stable. That’s not Beaufort. In the Keyserling years the City Council has raised one tax or another in just about every budget season. To my knowledge none has ever been reduced. Ironically these City Councils have raised costs mostly in the name of economic development, although few, if any, jobs that are attributable to the city’s costly efforts have been created.

Take for example the city’s economic development flagship, the Commerce Park. Purchased by the city for $1.85 million in 2012, jobs at the desolate 168-acre park have been lost since the city has owned it. And no wonder. The city’s maintenance and promotion of the park fall way short of what a privately-owned park would do. They get an F.

Success breeds success, and wary entrepreneurs avoid associating their new enterprises with anything that suggests mediocrity, much less failure.

Next, where’s the excitement? What happened to Main Street Beaufort, the primarily city-funded downtown development program that was charged with creating excitement in the Bay Street area? Excitement brings people in, and once they are there they may spend a few dollars. But even if they don’t, it gives 30-something mom and dad something fun to do — a place to go — with the children. It provides a pulse. Start-ups are drawn to that.

But the city recently discontinued the funding of its Main Street program.

There’s a street concert or mini-festival in next door Port Royal just about every weekend. The Farmer’s Market that the Beaufort City Council let slip away from the Waterfront Park is a big hit in Port Royal on Saturdays. Moreover, it is hoped the long-awaited opening of the port to development will give the town a big boost.

But in Beaufort the lights are off more often than they are on. And what’s ahead? The mayor’s live/eat/sleep blog celebrates what other people are doing to try to make things go. But where’s the city’s leadership leading us? What are we hoping for? A return to yesterday? 

These underlying fundamentals make very challenging the job of making the Digital Corridor go. And judging from the results delivered there so far, the consultants are feeling it.

But I’ll know more about that after our breakfast.

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

There’s a nuclear meltdown in Columbia

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by

By Bill Rauch

There is high political theater complete with pyrotechnics in our state capitol these days … since South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) announced it won’t be moving forward with the construction of its two new V.C. Sumner nuclear power plant reactors.

Over the past nine years South Carolina’s Public Service Commission (PSC) has approved nine rate increases worth now $1.4 billion so that the utility’s ratepayers could participate directly in the cost of the construction of the two reactors. The average SCE&G customer is now paying an additional $324 a year, or 18 percent, on their utility bill to help raise the money for the construction of these reactors.

They are less than half complete; work has stopped; and their joint owners, SCE&G and Santee Cooper, say they will not continue building them.

Gov. McMaster is looking for someone to buy them, but the early indications are he won’t have much luck. With the surge of wind and solar — and the low cost of oil and natural gas — nuclear is out of fashion. Good for him for trying, but he’s selling bellbottom trousers in a world that wants sundresses.

What SCE&G’s decision says, simply put, is we don’t need the plants. And that would be okay, if the ratepayers who were supposed to be being protected by the state government weren’t so deep in the hole.

Our state senator, Tom Davis, is calling for state-owned Santee Cooper — the owner of the minority stake in the project — to be privatized as a way of preventing future similar fiascos. That’s a good “reduce the size of government” idea, but as a practical political matter it probably won’t happen. And even if it did, it wouldn’t prevent future fiascos. SCE&G, the owner of the majority stake, isn’t a public company — it is a subsidiary unit of SCANA which is listed in the New York Stock Exchange. And that’s who led us into the mess.

Here’s what’s amazing: on the news of SCE&G’s decision to pull the plug on the project SCANA’s share price jumped nearly 10 percent.

Why?

Because investors hadn’t liked the smell of the project for some time, and with it gone they knew it would be the ratepayers and not the shareholders who would be the stooges left holding the bag. In all fairness I must add here that last week everybody who’s anybody in the mess declared they would sue everybody else who’s anybody in the mess. So, as this column goes to press, reacting negatively to the uncertainty that results from leaving matters such as this to the courts, SCANA’s stock price has drifted back to its pre-meltdown news level.

Nonetheless, at this writing it appears there’s a pretty good chance it will be the ratepayers who will end up holding a lot of the bag, by current estimates $2.2 billion more over the next 60 years. For nothing. And that’s just plain wrong.

So what can be done to prevent that tragic outcome, and future similar fiascos?

All signs point to the State Legislature. With power — and they have the power — unfortunately also comes responsibility. For example, the State Legislature appoints the members of the Public Service Commission. I urge readers to go their website (psc,sc.gov) and check out the group who’s protecting our pursestrings. I don’t know any of them.  I’m sure they’re all nice and honest and upstanding people. But in this they are in way over their heads. It makes you wonder about those who appointed them, and the process whereby the appointments became inevitable.

Take the chairman. According to his official biography he was a UGA football walk-on who served four years on the Winnsboro town council.  And he owned a trucking company there for 22 years. Or consider the commissioner who represents us here along the coast. According to his official bio he’s also associated with the trucking business and he’s active in the Boy Scouts. The vice chairman is a former Mayor of Clinton who was the public address announcer for Presbyterian College football for 30 years.

Where are the killer venture capitalists who shamelessly ask the gut-ripping questions?

We could have used a couple of them here.

Some want to blame the PSC’s staff, The Office of Regulatory Staff, but that’s a cop-out. If the staff can’t do their job, it’s up to the bosses to find some people who can.

Then there’s the 2007 Base Load Review Act (BLRA). Before condemning the PSC commissioners, consider this. The BLRA is a law that the Legislature passed overwhelmingly. Its purported purpose was to “protect ratepayers” but in the light of recent events it had the opposite effect. Basically what it said was when it comes to paying for the construction of the two new reactors SCE&G won’t have to pass the customary “prudence test” before the Public Service Commission.  Building the reactors was prudent, the Legislature proclaimed by South Carolina Law in 2007. The Public Service Commission was thus prevented from applying that critical test as the nine rate increases to help pay for the project were proposed. By the Legislature at least one of their hands was tied behind their back.

Too bad.

Wags like to say, “When government tells you they’re coming to help, beware!” The BLRA is a billion dollar example of that.

No one really knows what will happen next.

Surely a way will be found to stop the PSC from having to find that NOT building the reactors is prudent, and thus shifting the $2.2 billion future costs — which are mostly to make bond payments — from the ratepayers to SCANA’s balance sheet.

But SCANA has given $1.5 million in campaign contributions to legislators since 2009 and their best in class lobbyists are working overtime today, so the Legislature must be watched closely on this.

Watch the hands, not the lips. 

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

Fun camping trip turns into nightmare

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by

By Bill Rauch

I love my extended family.

So much so, in fact, that I agreed to go camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Brevard, N.C., with one of my extended family brothers and his children last week. We would be seven: three adults and four children. His children and ours, all four between 9 and 13 years of age, are best buddies.

It was an experience to remember … to remember in the future to avoid.

This wasn’t the first time. Over the 2015 Memorial Day weekend the same group had likewise set off together for the Mt. Pisgah National Forest, which is a spectacularly beautiful — and correspondingly popular — place. Because my brother was several hours delayed getting off from Beaufort for the 2015 adventure, we got to the park late and every last camping spot — legal or otherwise — was taken. So we stayed in a motel for the weekend which diminished somewhat the communing with nature experience.

But, our wounds healed and determined to recoup, with high hopes and great enthusiasm we set our sights once again last weekend on Brevard .

This time we got off from Beaufort more or less on time but suffered a setback when just outside Columbia, which is about halfway to the mountains, the fuel pump in my brother’s truck hit the skids. Luckily we were in two trucks so we squeezed his children and all their gear into our truck with us (and our big dog!) and we moved on while he stayed behind to deal with the fuel pump.

A good man with good ideas and strongly-held views, as we were pulling off my brother gave us specific instructions as to which campsite was our destination. Those instructions were: “Go up the road to the fish hatchery. Pass it. Soon thereafter the road turns to dirt and there are turn-offs to the left. Park there. Climb down the little hill to the little trout stream. Step across it and pick the one you like from the several campsites that are there.”

That sounded absolutely perfect and non-debatable, especially to the boys who had their fishing poles and were determined to catch dinner.

My wife says it always rains in the North Carolina mountains — at least when she’s there — and it had been raining apparently in her absence as well, because when we got there the “little trout stream” was up to its historic banks and tumbling fiercely down its course.

Of course there’s no cell service in the mountains, so if we moved campsites we knew my brother couldn’t find us. So we decided to man up, form with the children a six-person human chain to pass both families’ gear across the river, and thusly press on.

By the time my brother arrived in a jelly bean rental car at about sundown we had the campsite humming, including stringing up a clothesline to dry all the wet clothes, and the children cheerfully warming up with cocoa around the campfire.

Saturday morning’s much-anticipated sounds of the woods and the stream were interrupted unexpectedly by police sirens, but we didn’t think much of that. 

We took a big afternoon hike at the end of which my brother suggested we take the children just outside the park’s gate for ice cream cones at the ice cream parlor there. Funny, we noticed on our way out, there were no cars in the oncoming lane, and also out of the ordinary was that there was a police barricade and a sheriff’s deputy at the gate. After parking at the ice cream parlor, while the others got their ice cream, I walked over to talk to the deputy.

He was turning all the cars, and the pedestrians, and the bikers and the bicyclists around and not letting them into the park. To one guy he explained very carefully how to get to Tennessee. Seeing this, I said, “We just came out to get ice cream. We can get back in, right?”

“No,” the deputy said very gently. “It’s not safe. We’re getting everyone out. There’s a dangerous fugitive in there and he’s armed.”

“But our stuff’s all in there.  We’ve got our whole campsite set up.”

“Well, it shouldn’t be long,” the deputy said. “We’ve got some great recent intel and now he’s boxed in.” 

That was at about 6 p.m. Saturday. We put our heads together and decided we’d go over to the local brewery until 7:30 and then check back with the deputy.

You know the rest.

That night we had to drive an hour plus to find hotel rooms because all the other campers who had been kicked out of the park had an hour-and-a-half head start on us. Plus we had a dog — a big dog.

It rained hard that night, and on Sunday and on Sunday night. We pictured in our minds our cozy campsite. But we certainly couldn’t get to it. If the fugitive was boxed in, it was with a very big box.

Incidentally, Mt. Pisgah, if you haven’t reviewed your Bible recently, is the place from which Moses was shown the Promised Land, but he wasn’t allowed to go there.

There was one piece of good luck … if you can call it that because it very nearly killed me.

My brother and his two children headed back to Beaufort in the rental car on Sunday afternoon with just the same old hiking clothes they’d had on their backs since Saturday morning. Clothed similarly, we found a closer-by hotel for Sunday night and went to see “Dunkirk” at the movie theater in Brevard, which was probably the best thing that happened all weekend.

On our way back to Beaufort on Monday morning we stopped by the park entrance.

There an amazing thing happened. The deputy on duty turned us away, but there was a Transylvania County fire marshal there who overheard my story and asked me where our campground was. When I told him he said, “Oh they’ve got the gunman boxed in way away from there. I’m off in about 45 minutes. I’ll take you in if you can be quick.”

I swore to this lovely man: “We’ll be quick.” Forgive me, sir. I know you understand.

After two days of rain the little trout stream was now a raging torrent. The human chain didn’t have a chance because we were down two hands. Given the increased volume of water, it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. The children would have had to have been college football players.

All the camping gear — especially my brother’s whose tent had leaked badly — was completely soaked. It weighed a ton.

Piece by piece my wife and I carried (swam?) soaking wet comforters, pillows, sleeping bags, tents, and wads of clothes (not to mention coolers, bags of trash, frying pans, hatchets, air mattresses and bicycle pumps) across the ice-slick rocks and through the torrent. As a gesture of thanks — and because there wasn’t a square inch of room for it in the truck! — we were going to give the fire marshal a watermelon we’d brought with us, but it was lost downstream.

Neither we, nor the truck which still smells of wet, nor probably the nice fire marshal who gave us nearly three hours of his time have fully recovered yet.

I love my extended family. And love means not keeping score. But I’m off Mt. Pisgah. 

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

1 2 3 6
Go to Top