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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.

Handy partners lend a helping hand

in Contributors/Lee Scott/Voices by

By Lee Scott

As I was leaving my house recently to take Brandy for her grooming appointment, I opened the front door and a bird flew in and up the staircase. 

My spouse jumped up from his chair and said, “Shut the door there is a bird in the living room.” 

Uh oh, that meant there were two birds in the house. As I began to shut the front door the first bird flew out. Now my husband only had to deal with just one bird.  Evidently the birds had been perched on the Christmas wreath hanging on the front door. So, I unhooked it and flung it down on the grass. Then I put Brandy in the car, got in, and drove down the street.  

It wasn’t until I was halfway through the neighborhood when it dawned on me that possibly my mate might want assistance. Now I know I have blonde hair, but that is not the reason it took me so long to have this revelation. The truth was I was more focused on getting Brandy to her hair appointment on time.

I hesitated though to call him and ask if he needed my help. You see, my spouse is a very competent male. If there is something I need done around the house, he can do it.  

When the screen on the back door was ripped, he repaired it.  When the sink was clogged, he fixed it. There are numerous tasks that I just assume he can do because he is that kind of guy. 

So sometimes when I ask him if he needs help his response is something like: “What, don’t you think I can do it myself?” Or at the other end of the spectrum the response is: “I’ve been waiting for you to offer some help.” 

So here is the conundrum: Does he want my help or not?

I decided to call anyway. His response was: “Yes, why don’t you come back.”

But as I drove up to the house he was standing there with his phone. “I was just going to call you. The bird is out.”

I knew he could do it on his own.

“How did you do it?” I asked.

“I turned off all the lights inside the house, turned on the front porch light and opened the front door. The old phrase ‘Go to the light!’ came to mind. The bird flew out and joined his partner in the holly tree.”

Things got back to normal that day. Brandy looked well groomed, the birds were chirping in the tree, the Christmas wreath was in the trash and the house had a mild scent of Pine Sol throughout.  

Whitehall Point: A tale of beauty and tragedy

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By Fereol de Gastyne  

In 1562, when French explorer Jean Ribault discovered what would become our fair city, he wrote to France that our home in the Lowcountry, at that time, was tres belle.

But that Huguenot explorer, who came to the New World seeking religious freedom, was put to the sword by the Spanish in Florida, and Pedro Menendez de Aviles lorded over Santa Elena, which persisted for almost 50 years, half a century before the English settled in Virginia — a colony named after England’s virgin queen.

A mile or so upriver from Santa Elena, on what then they called the Bay, there was a lovely point of land on the eastern shore across from what would become Beaufort, a French name attributed to an English duke.

Whitehall Point gave rise to massive oaks, adorned with Spanish moss, large magnolias and long-needle pines, protecting the land from twice-daily tidal flows for hundreds of years. Those ground-protecting massive trees have been anchors for Whitehall Point throughout recorded history.

In 1790, an English ship captain, Daniel Hingston Bythewood by name, did build two tabby structures, and the plantation at Whitehall Point counted 700 acres then.  

When the captain’s wife, Elizabeth Taylor from Wales, talked Daniel away from the sea and into becoming a Baptist missionary, generations of Bythewood ministers followed in Beaufort at the old Baptist church, as gravestones today attest.

It was during the American Revolution that Beaufortonian islanders petitioned the city for the provision of a ferry that did operate from Beaufort to Whitehall Point for many years hence. For decades all roads from Beaufort to the Sea Islands passed through Whitehall Point. And when the wood bridge was completed, citizens witnessed the “last ferry to Beaufort.”

Generations crossed Beaufort River on the wood bridge, years before Woods Memorial Bridge replaced it.

Today, at the Library of Congress, one sees photographs of Capt. Bythewood’s plantation house taken during the Survey of National Historic Places in Beaufort County. It remains a mystery today who tore down those tabby ruins, as tabby ruins in the Lowcountry are normally treasured and treated with the utmost care. That was just one of many abuses our lady of Whitehall Point would be forced to endure.

In modern times, many developers have courted Whitehall Point as potential suitors, but each courtier has been left at the altar of modern development. The solution, they tell us, is to pave every square inch of the land, rendering her unrecognizable to those of us who have loved her, some for years, some for a lifetime.

Couples have been married under the oaks at Whitehall Point, and many have marveled from the perspective of Whitehall Point at the natural beauty of Beaufort. But progress has placed that beauty in grave danger. Indeed, its proximity to the city would be its undoing.

Fripp citizens tell stories of their best meals out being at Wikops of Whitehall Point, where the proprietors served some of the best Lowcountry fare in the region during that era.

Now, despite our sincere lamentations, Whitehall Point is being sacrificed in the name of progress. No walkable village with historic cottages, no vestige of our lovely lady will remain after development and progress. It will be like her majestic natural beauty never existed. 

But we will never forget her.

So as those majestic, centurion trees are felled in mere minutes, the tortured soul of Whitehall Point will be released from the land. Nay, our lady of Whitehall Point will become a withering ghost, an ephemeral visage, and like the mythical sirens of the sea, she will call to us over the water in vain as we sail past her.  

Hence, our lady of Whitehall Point will live on only in our memories, our remembrance of her but a thin shroud of graceful trees, laden with Spanish Moss, waving in the Beaufort breezes.  And like the tortured memories of star-crossed lovers, the captivating image of her natural beauty will haunt us forever.

Fereol de Gastyne is a local resident.

Timely financial reporting vital for public institutions

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By Richard Eckstrom 

Each October, many state agencies – including public colleges and universities – are required to submit to me their financial statements for the previous fiscal year. 

I use those statements to produce South Carolina’s financial report, which is used by lawmakers, credit rating agencies and others to assess the state’s financial condition.

An agency’s failure to turn in its statements on time can have ramifications beyond just that one agency. If it holds up completion of the state’s financial report, it potentially hinders policymakers’ ability to make decisions about spending and taxes. It may also send a troubling signal to investors interested in buying state bonds, or otherwise reflect poorly on the state.

Untimely financial statements sometimes raise red flags about an agency’s accounting and record-keeping. In the recent past, they’ve led to discovery of serious deficiencies – such as failure to reconcile bank statements regularly, or a lack of CPAs in crucial accounting positions. Even worse, they can indicate indifference toward the importance of financial reporting.

When an agency misses the deadline, it’s up to me to light a fire under them. But my options for doing so are limited. Hopefully, with repeated phone calls and a little nudging, I’ll have the statements in enough time to complete the state’s financial report without much delay.

But what happens when an agency is evasive or uncooperative – for example, won’t return calls? With no legal authority to force them to do anything, my only recourse is to raise the issue publicly and hope the unflattering attention will motivate the tardy officials to get with the program.

Which brings me to the subject of SC State University…

SCSU boasts a loyal student body and faithful alumni, yet its governance – particularly its financial leadership – has often fallen short. In 2014, its troubles came into the open: out of control spending, large budget deficits, about $10 million in unpaid vendor bills, mismanaged funds, and improperly recorded transactions, all of which resulted in a two-year probation by the regional accreditation agency. (Losing its accreditation would have been disastrous, as it would have meant its students were no longer eligible for federal aid and may well have caused SCSU to close its doors.)

Since then, much money and effort have gone into putting SCSU on sound financial footing. Lawmakers purged the entire board of trustees. The legislature gave the school around $20 million in state loans which later were forgiven, meaning taxpayers foot the bill to clean up the mess.

Given the resources invested in righting the ship, there was no joy in notifying other state leaders last month that SCSU was late again this year submitting its financial statements. After missing the Oct. 1 deadline, university officials assured me I’d have the statements by Nov. 22. That date came and went. It wasn’t until Dec. 12 – more than two months late – that the statements were turned in.

All who care about SCSU’s future should be concerned. Timely financial disclosures are crucial for keeping the university healthy and solvent. And again, late financial statements can portend broader issues.

While its fiscal woes only became known to the public in 2014, I actually had begun sounding the alarm years earlier – after growing concerned by the school’s chronic problems turning in its financial statements. Out of an abundance of caution, I’m sounding the alarm again.

Certainly, SCSU finances have stabilized over the past few years, and the quality of its board and administration are much-improved. Nonetheless, we mustn’t tempt fate. Given its track record and the magnitude of its recent troubles, complacency isn’t an option.

SC State’s crisis was rooted in a lax attitude toward the notions of oversight and accountability, a mindset partially cultivated by state leaders’ hands-off approach to the university; the storied, historically black university was treated as a special case, allowing its administrators to operate nearly oversight-free. What was actually needed, then as now, was “tough love.”

Three years later, the high stakes dictate keeping an attentive eye on SCSU administrators. We must remind them we’re watching and what’s expected of them. Failure to meet minimum standards isn’t acceptable.

And there’s a cautionary tale here for governmental bodies at all levels. While not a sensational topic, oversight measures such as financial reporting requirements are fundamental to an institution’s well-being.

Richard Eckstrom is a CPA and the state’s comptroller.

Public officials should make New Year’s resolutions

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By Richard Eckstrom 

For many of us, the arrival of Jan. 1 means more than a new calendar year. It’s an opportunity for a new chapter … a chance to get things right, to commit to bettering ourselves in some way. 

We resolve to eat healthier and exercise, save more, spend more time with loved ones, learn new skills or achieve a personal goal.

For those of us in public office, the New Year is an opportunity to take stock of how we serve and commit to ways we can improve. To that end, I offer some suggested resolutions for everyone in a position of public trust, from elected officials to agency administrators and members of government boards and commissions.

• Remember whose money we’re spending. Too many public officials view increased spending as the answer to every problem without much regard for the ever-growing burden being placed on taxpayers. Such decisions shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

Every dollar spent is a dollar taken from someone’s pocket, which means there’s one less dollar available for bills, groceries, college tuition or retirement savings.

We should always weigh the constant pressure for higher spending against the drawbacks. After all, there’s probably no better way for government to bolster peoples’ finances than to allow them to retain their own, hard-earned money. Higher spending and taxing does just the opposite.

• Commit to transparency. In my experience, the policy-makers who best serve the public interest are those who operate in full public view. They’re more sensitive to their constituents’ needs when they know those constituents are watching. 

Thus, one of the most important things any governmental body can do is to let citizens see how it makes decisions and spends funds. (Above all, in my opinion, financial records should be conveniently accessible on the web.)

Transparency creates government which answers to the people and connects with them.

• Focus on issues that matter. The hot-button issues aren’t always the most important issues. Especially at the state level, there’s a tendency among some to spend much time and energy on items that are likely to generate headlines or score political points – often at the expense of matters which are less exciting but of greater relevance to the lives of average South Carolinians.

Not long ago the political debate seemed dominated by a series of hot-button issues including flags, statues and names on school buildings and city streets. Meanwhile, far more consequential problems – for example, the crisis facing our state’s vastly underfunded and deteriorating pension system – have been left unsolved.

It’d be worthwhile to revisit our priorities, and perhaps devote less effort to things that have little direct impact on citizens’ lives and place a greater emphasis on the more important – even if less politically rewarding – nuts and bolts of government.

• Elevate the debate. For those seeking an elected position or otherwise engaging in political debate, the temptation to play hardball against an opponent can be strong. But so-called “mudslinging” only distracts us from the serious discussions needed to help voters size up candidates and make informed decisions.  

It can have a disillusioning effect, discouraging people from becoming involved in the process. Candidates who genuinely want the best for the community they hope to serve can help keep the debate on a higher plane by refusing to engage in personal attacks.

Public service is a noble pursuit. Sadly, trust in our leadership is an ever-dwindling commodity … further eroding with each new case of a government official gaming the system or mishandling resources. That means that those who conscientiously serve must aim a little higher to salvage whatever public trust remains. As we leave 2017 behind, let’s make a commitment to doing so.

Finally, I wish you a joyous, healthy and prosperous 2018. Happy New Year!

Richard Eckstrom is a CPA and the state’s comptroller.

Runners shed clothes for good cause

in Contributors/Lee Scott/Voices by

By Lee Scott

On Dec. 9, I drove up to Kiawah Island to watch a marathon. Please allow me to emphasize the word “watch.” I did not run, I observed. 

This event was the 40th Annual Kiawah Island Golf Resort Marathon and half-marathon.  

The race is sanctioned by the USA Track and Field Organization and is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon. The purpose of my visit was to watch two 30-somethings run the half-marathon. 

As I was driving on the island, I started to notice clothes on the side of the race course. This went on for miles. There were coats, shirts, pullovers and sweatshirts; all the kinds of clothing you normally see on runners. 

Now, let me tell you it was very cold that morning. I have no doubt many runners were wearing at least pullovers at first, but they got overheated as they were running. So, I understand why they would be shedding clothing, however I wondered how were they going to get their clothes back? Do they drop an article of clothing at a specific spot and then go back to pick it up? 

After running 26 miles, do you really want to go back and find an old sweatshirt? Do they have relatives and friends grab their discarded gear? Or maybe, they just don’t care and leave it there.

When my two friends finished their half-marathon, I asked about all the clothes.

“Oh, that’s for charity. A lot of racers are encouraged to drop clothing,” Carrie responded. “Any clothing left after the race gets donated and there are many charity opportunities in races nowadays.”

Sure enough, I looked up the Kiawah Island Golf Resort website. “Clothing not claimed after the event is donated to local nonprofit.” What a great idea! 

There were a few other ways for people to donate, like the Soles for Souls program which allows runners to donate their shoes.

After reading about Kiawah’s race, I started to investigate further. There are stories in newspapers all over the country about cities holding races where the runners are dropping clothes and volunteers are picking them up to take to homeless shelters and nonprofits. 

According to one article regarding the 2014 New York Marathon, runners donated 26 tons of clothing to Goodwill.  

Goodwill set up bins along the race course so runners could just throw items into the boxes.

It was an amazing eye-opener as I watched people shedding their clothes that morning, and I was glad to hear this trend is spreading throughout the country. It was also announced that spectators could shed their outerwear too; something for me to remember for next year’s race. 

Letters to the Editor

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Kudos to councilman for opposing bag ban

It’s nice to see an elected official standing up for what’s right. 

As Beaufort County continues to push for a ban on single-use plastic bags, one councilman has shown courage to object on grounds that it does not address the real issue.

Coastal areas of the country are being swept up in the environmental populism of bag bans, but Councilman Jerry Stewart thinks the proposal is “inappropriate legislation.” It is the behavior of some uncaring individuals that is inappropriate, not the inanimate object.

We agree and applaud Mr. Stewart’s stance on this issue.

Paul Runko
Vice President
Greater Bluffton Republican Club

Marines appreciate being remembered

Editor’s note: See page A6 for a story on local schoolchildren who made special boxes of gifts for the Marines of VMFA-312. 

Thank you to all those who have dedicated time and effort to making the holidays for the Marines of VMFA-312 feel like home.  

Being away from family and friends can be a difficult and trying time for almost anyone, but when a young Marine – or even an old one – is thousands of miles away from a single family member, the holidays can feel like any other day.  

We work day in and day out, sometimes without even knowing what day it is. Our days can feel like the same over and over without anything new or exciting happening to lift our spirits.  

Your thoughts, Christmas cards and gifts go a very long way for all of us aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. For some of our Marines, these may be the only gifts they receive for the Christmas holiday, and because you took the time to think of us, we are thankful.  

Our holiday season has changed for the better with your gifts and cards decorating our work spaces. The books you have sent keep us busy during our down time. 

The toothbrushes, toothpaste and tissue paper replenish our needed goods, and your candy and snacks keep our bellies full.  

Your kind words and best wishes have put us in the holiday spirit, and we have you all to thank. These Christmas presents have by far been the best gifts we have received in the mail, and it was right on time. 

The presents wrapped and decorated with drawings are better than any store-bought packaging. We even love the glitter all over the boxes.  

We, the Marines of 312, are grateful for people like you who think of us when we are far away from the ones we love.  

This holiday season truly has been blessed by you in every way. From all of us here we would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Semper Fidelis,
SSgt. Brian C. Gustafson
VMFA-312   FIGHT’S ON
Powerline SNCOIC

Start new year with commitment to education

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By Curtis Loftis 

For many of us, the new year is a time to create resolutions we hope will have a lasting impact in our lives. We think of the new year as a blank slate, the perfect opportunity to prioritize what is most important to us. 

For many families across South Carolina, helping their children achieve future goals and dreams is at the top of that list.

Though the goal of your own child’s college education may seem far off, securing a plan now that will help you meet the cost of college is a smart and important way to begin the new year. 

One thing is certain: Someday your children will thank you for caring enough to save for their education.

Begin 2018 with the future in mind, and start saving for your child’s college education through Future Scholar, South Carolina’s 529 College Savings Plan. Here are some handy financial tips to help you save for college:

• Do your research and make a plan: Map out what your college savings goals are. Is your plan to save for tuition only or for everything your child will need, such as books or a computer? Do you envision your child attending a four-year university or a technical college? 

Research tuition and added costs across different educational paths, and create a budget that works for your family. Futurescholar.com features calculators to help you make a plan for the future cost of college.

• Take advantage of resources: Giveaways and contests are often overlooked but can be great resources for adding to your Future Scholar savings. Throughout the year, encourage your child to participate in various opportunities to win contributions to an existing 529 account. Be sure to visit my office’s Facebook page to learn about upcoming contests and events.

• When your child gets close to attending college, turn in FAFSA forms as early as possible: The free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) may provide qualified applicants with grants, loans or work-study funds to add to savings and help pay for educational costs. The sooner you submit your application, the more likely you will be to receive financial aid, so apply Jan. 1 of the year your child will be attending.

Here’s to starting the new year off on the right track.  

From our Future Scholar family to yours, we wish you a happy and healthy 2018.

Curtis Loftis is the treasurer for the state of South Carolina and the administrator of Future Scholar.

Hallmark movies pull at heartstrings

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By Lee Scott

When I was a child, the Hallmark Card company would sponsor a two-hour movie each Christmas. This was a big deal in our household and as I recall, the commercials only promoted Hallmark cards, many of which were tearjerkers.  

There were always soldiers coming home for Christmas, new puppies arriving and grandparents holding new grandchildren. 

Although the original Hall of Fame debuted on television on Dec. 24, 1951, it was the movies from the 1960s that I remember. My parents would announce when one of the shows was scheduled and we would all be huddled in the family room, poised for the announcer’s voice. I have even bought some of the DVDs of those older movies.

Times have changed though. Now Hallmark has its own channel and has recently introduced another one. The Hallmark Drama channel was launched on Oct. 1. This troubled my spouse somewhat since he thought the original channel had enough drama.

Now, instead of watching an occasional Christmas movie, you can watch tearjerkers 24 hours a day. 

As I sat there the other night watching “A Royal Christmas” where the Prince of Cordinia wants to marry the seamstress, Emily, my spouse asked, “How many of these little kingdoms are tucked in the mountains of Europe? And how many princes does Genovia have anyway?” 

I had to remind him that the Kingdom of Genovia was in “The Princess Diaries” movie, and it was not a Hallmark movie. He must not be paying attention to the movies as much as I am, otherwise he would have known that fact. 

I did suggest he might want to contact Prince Harry of England who recently found his future wife, Meghan Markle, in America.  Maybe Harry knows how many kingdoms are in Europe. Also, can we assume a movie production will be coming out based on that relationship? Is it possible Hallmark is already working on one?

My spouse is correct, though. There are a lot of royalty finding their American soul mates on the Hallmark channel. There is “A Prince for Christmas,” “Christmas Princess,” “My Summer Prince,” “A Royal Christmas” … you get the idea. 

But the “Christmas Princess” is really not about a royal princess after all, but rather a young girl who dreamed about becoming a Rose Bowl princess.

Before long the Christmas season will end, and the new movies will fade into rerun heaven. There will be no more mistletoe, falling snow and endless Christmas decorations. But fret not, Hallmark is already planning for the 2018 Christmas presentations. 

For now, enjoy the shows, and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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.

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