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Bill Rauch

Long-term plan is already in crisis management

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

How to be a great mother-in-law

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The funeral service for my mother-in-law, Peggy Sanford Peyton, was held last week.

I’m certain there are a lot of guys who in their private-most thoughts have been good with seeing their mothers-in-law put 6-feet under, especially in those cases where in her later years the mother-in-law had moved in.

I’m not one of them.

In the course of the recent services and receptions and other gatherings since Peg’s (we called her “Peg”) passing, I’ve been asked about how it was to live with her.

Here’s the secret to her success. 

Peg spent a couple of years as a single woman in New York at the Juilliard School during World War II, and four years as a single American woman completing her schooling in Paris in the years immediately after World War II. She didn’t speak much about those years, but I suspect she saw a lot of life at a crucial time in her life then. Being a sophisticated person means a lot more than knowing which dress or necktie to wear, when to pick up which fork, the difference between prosecco and rococo and Chopin and Cezanne. It also means having seen situations that look good go bad, and finding to your surprise things that start badly that end up well.

That was Peg. A sophisticated woman, she had seen too much to be caught off-base. She was devotedly non-judgmental.

What she wanted from life was just, well … life. Peg loved parties because she loved action. That’s what brought the glint to the eye. 

There’s more.

As a grandmother, she understood that her children and their spouses were already fully-baked. So she concentrated on her grandchildren, of which as her years increased she had many. In this pursuit Peg had one speed only: full blast positive. In her eyes her grandchildren could do no wrong. One sobbing in wet pants and diapers, the other caked in mud and spitting mad, these were the very best children in the firmament.

There’s more.

Peg pitched in. Even when you knew she hurt (and she would never say she did) she would clear tables, fold laundry, put things right. It was easy to say to her with utter sincerity that she’d put in her time raising four children, that now it was time for her to rest and for the children and the grandchildren to pick up the slack. It didn’t matter. If there was something to be done, Peg was on it. But she never kept score the way some people — especially children — do. It was never “Well I just emptied the dishwasher, so how about you feed the dogs.”

Not once.

Then there was the piano. When it comes to live-in grandparents, war heroes should occasionally tell war stories, ballplayers should when the time’s right play ball with the kids, great cooks should from time to time show the uninitiated around the kitchen, and musicians should in moderation play their favorite music. A concert pianist, Peg could knock out Chopin, Bach, Mozart and Rachmaninoff tunes right up to the end. If her memory sometimes let her down, her piano never did.

We’re the worse for your leaving us, Peg. But there’s a coming home party and a bunch of your long-lost pals awaiting you where you’re going. 

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

The Greenies are at the gates but interim solutions falter

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By Bill Rauch

Last week — which slipped by largely unnoticed — was a pivotal week in one of the great dramas of our time.

To begin the story modestly, driving home I noticed that one of my neighbors is installing solar panels on his roof. The word has also circulated recently that a solar farm is going in where there is now farmland at the end of the road. Sailing in the northeast last summer, we saw what was described as a highly successful wind farm off Block Island in the Long Island Sound. Driving through the west we saw wind farms that went on for miles.

Even SCE&G is now on board. They’re building a 6,156-panel solar farm on land adjacent to their headquarters in Cayce, according to a news release the company issued last week. The facility will come online in November, the company said.

Energy generation from sustainable sources is working.  And not just because of subsidies and tax breaks. The technologies, while continuing constantly to be improved, are now financially feasible.

But there’s still one big problem: when the wind dies, or the rains come, or night falls, the generators stop. And the technology that would permit the storing of sufficient energy — the batteries with the capacity to store and provide adequate power when the generators are off — power enough to energize our homes and businesses aren’t there yet. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance report published last week predicted $239 billion will be spent worldwide on lithium-ion batteries by 2040. This money will go largely to batteries we charge during peak times to power our homes and businesses and cars during the off-peak times, the report said.

Those technologies, when taken together — wind, solar, lithium-ion batteries — will begin to move us in a substantial way away from our current fossil fuel dependence.

But that is then and this is now.

The scientific community says in virtual unison that now is the time to get off the fossil fuels that provide inestimable comfort to our lives. Study after study finds there is a clear nexus between fossil fuel use and sea level rise. And the seas are demonstrably rising. Heeding the warnings, the Democrats in both the U.S. Senate and the California General Assembly are calling for a full transition to renewable energy sources. 

The greenies are at the gates.

Marked sea level rise threatens chaos in ways unimaginable. What if not chaos would result from the federal government, for example, announcing that in the out years FEMA won’t continue to offer flood insurance for oceanfront lots? Who of sound mind thinks the private sector might then step in to save the day? How many trillions in real estate values would be lost that day? And that’s just in the USA.

Regrettably wind and solar — now each growing like gangbusters — aren’t ready yet to pick up the slack. Neither certainly is their infant clean energy cousin, biothermal.

That leaves clean coal and nuclear that might provide the clean bridge to the clean future, which is what prompted me to write about this subject today. Their respective prospects each took a beating last week.

South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) and its partner, Santee Cooper, are billions of dollars over budget and only about 38 percent complete at their jointly-owned state-of-the-art V.C.Sumner 1&2 nuclear plants near Jenkinsville in the Midlands. SCE&G has already raised their rates across the board by about 20 percent to pay for the beleaguered project. The company’s customers (us) now pay more for a kilowatt hour of electricity than any other public electrical utility customers this side of Las Vegas. To make things worse, now SCE&G and Santee Cooper’s contractor for the project, The Westinghouse Electric Company, recently sought bankruptcy protection. SCE&G and Santee Cooper told the Public Service Commission last week that they’ll take until Aug. 10 to decide whether to go it alone building the two new reactors, or scale the project back to one new reactor, or scuttle it altogether.

The company’s customers have already pitched in $1.4 billion of the $7.7 billion they (we) are now scheduled to pay under a recently-negotiated settlement agreement. If the utilities scrap the project, that money (our money) is gone. It was invested in a dinosaur farm. 

Meanwhile, last week the largest “clean coal” facility in the U.S. announced it would no longer burn coal to generate electricity, and that it would instead power the plant with natural gas. The Southern Company and Mississippi Power, the plant’s owners, will not turn on the “coal gasification” portion of their long-heralded Kemper County Power Plant, the companies said in a joint statement. This was the technology that was supposed to make coal clean. Now gone like the dinosaurs.

So if nuclear and clean coal aren’t going to provide the needed cleaner bridge to the future, what might?

Last week it was also announced that dichloromethane levels have doubled in the stratosphere since 2004. 

What are they and why do they matter?

Dichloromethanes are the little-regulated active ingredient in adhesives and industrial strength solvents that are used for stripping paint and degreasing kitchen, factory and automotive equipment. According to a British study reported on last week in the scientific journal Nature Communications, the dichloromethane gasses that are released when these adhesives and solvents are used both deplete the ozone layer (which had been reportedly healing itself as of late) and — the study says — they also trap heat in the atmosphere that contributes significantly to global warming.

Since wrestling the chlorofluorocarbons to the ground at the beginning of this century, we’ve needed a new villain, a villain less central to our collective comfort than are the fossil fuels. Dichloromethanes may be it. Limiting their use might help buy some of the time needed to improve, build and distribute the batteries so that the energy derived from wind and solar can be stored.

Maybe there’s still hope we’ll avoid the chaos.

It was plenty hot enough in Beaufort last week. We lathered the boys in SPF 50 sunblock before they went off to their soccer camp. And, yes, the tides seeping silently up into the yard were plenty high enough too. 

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

To run or not to run? That is the question

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By Bill Rauch

’Tis apparently the season for prospective candidates for local public office to make up their minds whether it’s “Go” or “No” for them in the upcoming election season.

I know this because I have heard from several who are making up their minds.

Depending upon how experienced they are and how well I know them, my advice has varied a little, but not much.

Here’s the short course.

If there’s something you believe the community needs, and you have the fire in your belly to clear all the hurdles to get it for them, then run. Tell the voters what you’re going to do for them, how you’re going to do it, why they need it, and how they can help you. If they agree, they may give you the job.

The candidates who step into office with clear direction find the job the most rewarding.

Next in line in terms of personal satisfaction are the ideologues. These are the ones who know precisely what the world needs — e.g. government spends too much, or society will be better if the poor get a firmer hand up, or the environment needs protecting at all costs — and they won’t be deterred by alternative arguments. Since ideologues know they are always right, they derive relatively little angst from the difficulties of leadership and thusly find satisfaction in it.

Then there are those who bring with them a special skill set that they believe — probably correctly — the government needs. They may be experienced in running government or in the proper protocols at the intersections of government and business. Or maybe they know from long experience the workings of state or federal agencies that implement transportation, or environmental or business development policy. 

These candidates are problem-solvers, and government can always use problem-solvers.

These are the ones, listed in the order of the satisfaction they’re likely to gain from their service, who should run. Let’s call these three groups — the directed, the ideologues, and the problem-solvers — collectively the “above the line” groups.

These are the ones who are most likely to get things done for their constituents. And, betraying my own prejudices a little, to me getting the things done that the constituents want done is what it’s all about. 

Then there are the three groups who should not run. Members of these groups will seek to disguise themselves as members of the “above the line” groups, but when you query them closely you may find you are not fooled and they in fact belong more appropriately to one or more of the three “below the line” groups.

What are the “below the line” groups? 

First, it’s important to know that their members are just as eager — perhaps even more so — as the above-the-liners.

A few of those who seek elective office do so because they want to enrich themselves. Sometimes they make a little money, but then they get found out and defending themselves often costs more than they made. Certainly it costs them their reputations. Most importantly, since it is not their priority, they accomplish little for the constituency.

Others run because they seek fame, and while they may gain some celebrity the question will soon become, “For what?”  If there’s no “there” there, then they become known as what? An empty shirt. 

Finally the most frustrated of all the below-the-liners are the ones who wish to be loved. Some of those you serve will be obsequious around you of course because they naturally — and justifiably — fear the government, and now you are the government’s face. But not all.

The stark tragedy for this group is when they meet a hundred people and 99 smile at them and say kind things, the one they remember is the one who sniffed at them.

And there are always more than a few of those.

These slights may cause these officials sleepless nights, but what about their constituents?

Getting things done in government means inevitably someone somewhere will be made unhappy. There are no solutions that benefit absolutely everybody. Accordingly, the ones that want to be loved by everybody don’t accomplish anything for the constituency. 

Ultimately they are then unhappy because someone slighted them, and the constituency is unhappy because time and again when the official was about to get something done, he flinched.

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

This is why I live in Beaufort

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Young Henry Futch

Photo above: Henry Futch in 2003. Photos courtesy of Diane Futch.

By Bill Rauch

Henry Futch was just 5 years old when he left Beaufort in 2004.

But the boy and Beaufort went through some tough times together, the kind of tough times that bring out the best in the best.

When Henry was 4 and in Mrs. Clancy’s class at the Sea Island Presbyterian Pre-school, his parents learned he had a rare form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. 

Initially the doctors said the cancer was just in his throat, but then they said it was Stage 3/4 because it was all over the boy’s kidneys too.

Henry’s mom and dad, Diane and Lee Futch, then Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort’s comptroller and a very recently retired squadron commander at MCAS-Beaufort respectively, moved little Henry up to Charleston to the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) to fight the fight. The doctors there said, “We think if he can survive the chemotherapy treatments, he’ll survive the disease.”

The fight to eradicate the 4-year-old boy’s cancer  — including sky-high chemo doses and many, many blood transfusions — went on for about six months in late 2002 and early 2003. 

“We had always gone to church and prayed before meals,” Diane Futch recalled last week, ”but this strengthened our faith. It brought our lives into perspective. Our faith brought us the strength we needed.” 

Beaufort joined in. 

One Sunday school class all reached into their pockets and pooled their change, which they gave to Henry’s mom explaining: We know how it is at hospitals, you need lots of change for those vending machines. Others brought covered dishes by, or took treats with them when they went to Charleston to check on Henry and his family.

Col. Harmon Stockwell, MCAS-Beaufort’s commanding officer, cut his comptroller innumerable breaks during this period so that she could be at her son’s bedside.

Henry was hanging in there, the doctors reported.

The Futches lived at Burckmyer Beach and their neighbors there, organized and drilled by that consummate doctor’s wife (and doctor’s mother), Sue Collins, became family. 

“I can’t tell you how the community embraced us … supported us,” Henry’s mom said last week. “I cannot imagine going through something like that anywhere else.” 

In the midst of his treatments Henry came home for Christmas. He was very weak. But as always, he was upbeat, smiling and optimistic.

Clancy’s husband, Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy, who was in 2002 a major with the department, arranged to get a police department uniform for Henry and an official-looking police ID with Henry’s name and photo on it. 

With Santa riding shotgun in his PD SUV, the day before Christmas Matt Clancy drove out the Futches’ house at Burckmyer where Santa fitted Henry out with the uniform and ID, and Major Clancy swore in Officer Henry Futch. Then the group went on patrol over to the Lady’s Island Airport where they had arranged for the PD’s plain clothes victim advocate to run a stop sign.

It was up to Officer Futch to decide whether to throw the book at the offender or give him another chance. Characteristically citing the joy of the Christmas season, Henry wrote the stop sign runner a warning.

Then it was back to business in Charleston — but now always in uniform.

Rank, as we all know, has its privileges. The Burger King by MUSC extended to Officer Futch their first responder discount, and the nurses and doctors snapped off salutes to him when they passed him in the corridors.

About six weeks after Christmas the boy turned the corner. The doctors said he was clear, and he’s been clear ever since.

Where is Henry now? On a hunting trip with his dad to mark his graduation last week from the Cedar Creek School in Ruston, La.

Set to report later this month, Henry Futch has accepted an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where by tradition he will be sworn in by one of his U.S. Marine Corps-retired parents.

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

Henry last week as he graduated from high school.
Henry last week as he graduated from high school.
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