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Watchdog citizens strengthen communities

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By Richard Eckstrom
S.C. Comptroller

They keep tabs on their public officials, often asking the tough questions and sounding the alarm when something doesn’t seem right. They attend meetings, sometimes sitting in the front row and staying until the very end. They request information under the public-records law. Sometimes, they criticize.

Watchdog citizens are an annoyance to a lot of politicians, muddying up the otherwise tidy business of government. But they serve a vital purpose, and many have made a positive difference in their communities. A few examples off the top of my head:

• Years ago, a woman in SC fought both DHEC and her local well water provider over her neighborhood’s water quality and high utility rates. Taking on government – or a utility –  is always an uphill battle, and the woman was initially unable to even obtain the public records she sought under the Freedom of Information Act.

But she persisted. After threatening to get the media involved, she got the documents she wanted … documents that suggested contaminants in the well water had been making people sick. The wells were shut down, and her efforts ultimately resulted in better water quality for her neighborhood.

• In the Lowcountry this summer, a citizens group which is often at odds with the leadership of the local school district was reviewing the district’s spending when they noticed questionable charge card purchases – including one at Victoria’s Secret. The discovery prompted district leaders to explain some of the charges, and as it turns out the Victoria’s Secret charge was fraudulent and had been reimbursed. That’s good to know, I guess, but it was information that should have already been publicly available. 

The school superintendent later proposed improvements to the district’s spending reports – a positive step resulting directly from the involvement of watchdog citizens.

• Concerned Columbia residents for years butted heads with city leaders over the annual transfer of millions of dollars from the water-and-sewer maintenance fund into the city’s general fund. The highly-unpopular practice left the city with both ever-increasing water bills and a crumbling water-sewer system, yet city officials insisted that ending it would leave them with a devastating budget shortfall.  Unable to persuade the mayor and City Council to stop raiding the water-sewer fund, a trio of good-government advocates pooled their money, hired an attorney and took the matter to court.

The case made it to the SC Supreme Court, which sided with the citizen-watchdogs in ruling that water-sewer money shouldn’t be treated as a slush fund. The city soon abolished the practice and restored its water-sewer maintenance fund. And all turned out fine; there was no budget shortfall after all.

• Some attentive residents in one county discovered that three local elected officials had declined county-sponsored health insurance in favor of cash payments – each totaling about $24,000 over a several-year period. One county council member had also received $26,000 in public funds toward his college tuition. Both the cash-in-lieu-of-insurance and the tuition payments ran afoul of the State Constitution.

The citizens sought to have the money returned to the taxpayers and demanded the politicians’ resignations, though those efforts were rebuffed. The watchdogs’ work did pay dividends, however, as the county ended the questionable payments and the three incumbents were later ousted by voters.

• When one school district barred citizens from recording public meetings, a local activist – one who happened to know that SC law allows citizens to record such meetings – took her district to court. The woman was publicly mocked and derided by district officials eager to discredit her. But the law was on her side. She prevailed, and as a result the district made its meetings truly open.

In each of these cases, the watchdogs drew fire from the entities they sought to hold accountable … yet their perseverance ultimately proved beneficial to their communities.

I frequently get calls from such citizens seeking advice, and a recurring complaint is that they’re often maligned, sometimes publicly and harshly, because of their efforts. Unfortunately, too many governmental bodies choose to shoot the messenger – even well-meaning citizens with valid concerns. 

That’s a shame. Citizen-watchdogs strengthen their communities (as do local newspapers.) They improve the quality of government by keeping officials honest; our leaders tend to walk a little straighter when they know someone’s watching. 

People who care enough to get involved in guiding their community’s future should be respected – even cherished – including those whose watchful eyes add another layer of government oversight. Especially those who take their lumps and refuse to relent.

Richard Eckstrom is a CPA and the state comptroller.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me…

in Contributors/Lee Scott/Voices by

By Lee Scott

Fifty years ago, in November of 1967, I turned 14 years old. It was that same year that the Beatles released a song on their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album titled “When I’m 64.”  

Now 50 years later, here I am, walking around my house singing “When I’m 64.”

It’s hard to imagine that my 14-year-old self would ever guess she would someday turn 64. I am of the generation that did not want to be older than 30. But somewhere along the way, 30 seemed kind of fun, and then came my 40s, 50s and now my 60s. Each year brings new adventures.

But Paul McCartney’s words seem foreign in many ways now as I look around at all the men and women I know who are in their 60s and 70s.  

These are vibrant active people. Many are still working, not willing to stop and just take a “ride on a Sunday morning,” unless it is in a golf cart. The lyrics suggest something of an end-of-life connotation as if there is nothing else left. 

“He can be handy mending a fuse.”

“You can knit a sweater by the fireside.”

The song lyrics also do not suggest that Paul, at 25 when the song was released, would have every guessed that 50 years later he would still be performing concerts.  

According to his website, he is going on tour next month in Australia, performing five concerts in Australia and one in New Zealand. 

It did appear that he planned on growing old with a spouse. But his wife Linda died at the age of 56 after being married to Paul for 29 years.  

Sometimes, life throws a curve ball, and things you planned when you were young are not able to happen. But happily, his wife Nancy, 57, will be with him for a while.

No, I am not “losing my hair,” and neither is my spouse, but I do expect “birthday greetings with a bottle of wine.” And although we do have many grandchildren, not one of them is named “Vera, Chuck or Dave.” Still the song is sweet and appropriate for me to be singing as I welcome this birthday turning 64. 

And so, as I sauntered up behind my spouse yesterday and once again sang the last line of the song, which ends with this question, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

My spouse turned to me and said, “Yes, only if you promise not to spend the next year singing that song.” 

We shall see. 

Letter to the Editor

in Letters to Editor/Voices by

Many concerns about Whitehall development

I relocated permanently to Beaufort almost two years ago, in part due to its stunning natural beauty and historic legacy.  

Suddenly, I am cognizant of the fact that those of us who live on the islands (Lady’s, St. Helena, Dataw, Harbor and Fripp) east of Woods Bridge are about to be impacted directly and irrevocably by decisions that will be made by Beaufort Planning and the Beaufort Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC). 

I presented my concerns to the MPC on Nov. 13 regarding concerns I have relative to the long-awaited development of the Whitehall property.  

Consisting of (19) heavily-wooded acres located at the foot of Woods Bridge, Whitehall drains directly into Factory Creek and the Beaufort River. Soil disruption on that site will certainly affect the marshes via storm water runoff with its certain pollutants and from deadly siltation via eroded soil.  

Many are concerned about the number of mature trees that will be destroyed, but my drop-in meeting with Beaufort Planning and review of the aborist’s plan alleviated my concerns about clearing of trees, to some degree.

But for those of us who have studied the current plan, the two most disturbing facts are the immediate and permanent traffic impacts we will suffer on Sea Island Parkway and Meridian Road. I am proposing right turn lanes for ingress/egress for the Sea Island Parkway entrance. Otherwise, or we will be sitting in murderous traffic jams there soon.  

The second burning issue is the developer seeks to build way too many buildings on the property. With that degree of impervious (won’t absorb water) material in asphalt, concrete, buildings, etc., the stormwater runoff and potential for flooding will be significant. If allowed to continue, as in Charleston and other low areas, the “drainage deficit” can result in the kind of flooding we have seen in those localities.

More than anything, I hoped to convince the MPC that when it comes to properties that border the tideline (reached by tidal waters), there must be a stricter set of environmental standards in place for land development that go beyond the mandatory 30-foot development setback mandated by SC DHEC OCRM.  

As just one example, saving mature trees on tideline properties not only shields the resulting buildings from view, the trees hold the soil, prevent erosion and reduce the potential of storm water runoff and pollution of nearby wetlands and waterways.

I hope the MPC will listen to the citizens and conservation groups, because the decisions made for Whitehall will set precedents for Beaufort tideline communities that will affect us all for years to come.

Fereol de Gastyne
Beaufort

Looking for fall foliage, finding a hurricane

in Contributors/Lee Scott/Voices by

By Lee Scott

Having grown up in the north, I am used to seeing rolling hills of colorful leaves this time of year.  

Although the live oaks in my yard have shed their fall leaves and are replaced now with green leaves, they never provide me with colorful fall colors. 

So my spouse and I decided to go in search of some fall foliage.  

The warm fall we have had delayed some of the leaves changing in the South Carolina and North Carolina mountains, so we headed farther north. But even Maryland was behind in changing seasons and we only saw a few trees with colors. 

The decision was made to go farther north until we hit Quebec City in Canada. There, at the end of October, we finally entered fall-like weather with its colorful foliage. 

It was so much fun to walk on the sidewalk, look down and see the fallen Canadian maple leaves. We decided to try our luck and head farther north. As we traveled around Saquenay, Quebec, we realized we we had gone too far. The bare trees reminded of us of why we moved south to our beautiful Palmetto trees and live oaks. Winter can be so dreary without any leaves on the trees.

We then headed over to Nova Scotia and there in Halifax found our fall foliage all around. It was spectacular! 

It was during our drive over to Peggy’s Cove, the sight of a spectacular lighthouse perched out on some large rocks, when my spouse said, “Did I mention to you that we’re getting a visitor here?”

“What visitor?” I asked. “Who do we know in Nova Scotia?”

“Phillippe,” he said calmly. 

“The hurricane?” I asked in shock. He nodded his head.

“Are you telling me that we traveled over 1,500 miles only to have a hurricane follow us?”

I have really had it with hurricanes this year.

But he echoed my sentiments when he said, “At least it didn’t go to Beaufort.”

Fortunately, Philippe was slowly dissipating so we were not impeded in our trip. However, those 70 mph winds coupled with a strong rainfall sure felt like a hurricane.

After the front came through and the leaves were stripped off the trees, we began our trek south. 

The Maine coastline did not disappoint us and one can guess why maple syrup is so popular in Canada and Maine. There were maple trees everywhere.

But the post-hurricane weather was followed by cold air and we began to layer on our clothes in the brisk fresh air.

Time to head south we agreed. Our fall foliage excursion was over and we headed home.

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.

Letter to the Editor

in Letters to Editor/Voices by

Thanks to those who walked for water

On behalf of The Beaufort Walk for Water 2017 steering committee, we’d like to thank the 261 walkers who joined us on Oct. 14 at the Live Oaks Park in Port Royal to raise more than $26,000 and bring awareness to the need for safe, clean drinking water in other parts of the world.

The walk was a great success and it would not have been possible without our wonderful sponsors who “stepped up to the plate” to make sure this important event took place.  

First Presbyterian Beaufort, St. Mark’s Episcopal, St. John’s Lutheran, Sea Island Presbyterian, Water’s Edge UMC, the Unitarian Universalists Fellowship of Beaufort, Cleland Construction and the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, each helped with not just the finances to cover costs but provided volunteers to help coordinate the event.

Thanks to community support like Beaufort’s walk, Water Mission, headquartered in Charleston, is able to reach even more of the 1.8 billion people who don’t have access to clean water. The international nonprofit is working in Puerto Rico and other islands of the Caribbean to help those devastated by this fall’s hurricanes. 

Thank you, again, to those who helped make this year’s walk a success. Watch for more information about next year’s schedule!

Beaufort Walk for Water 
Steering Committee

Letters to the Editor

in Letters to Editor/Voices by

School board setting poor example for kids

I am writing as someone who was bullied growing up, as a parent of a second-grade student in Beaufort County schools who has been bullied (though thankfully not in school), and as a concerned constituent of Beaufort County. 

I have spoken about this issue before at a school board meeting and it brings me great sadness that this matter continues to come up. As many of you know, October was anti-bullying awareness month. 

I don’t know if all of this is coincidental or completely random that the topic of bullying continues to be brought up with regarding the school board members, but regardless, as adults I feel we need a refresher course on what constitutes bullying. 

The following is copied verbatim from the district website on what bullying is and what the anti-bullying policy is for Beaufort County schools:

“What is bullying?

“Bullying is unwanted aggressive behavior that invokes a real or perceived threat or action. It is a behavior that is repeated or can be repeated by one individual or many individuals. Long lasting effects of bullying may cause life-long problems for both the victim and the bully.

“What are the types of bullying and some examples?

• Verbal bullying includes name calling, verbal threats, spreading rumors or excluding a student from activities or conversations.

• Physical bullying involves one or more students aggressively hitting or attacking another student.  

• Social/cyberbullying is electronic aggression using the Internet, social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), e-mails, instant messaging and text messaging.

“When and where is bullying likely to happen?

“Bullying is likely to occur at school, on the way to or from school, on the playground, in the cafeteria, in the classroom and sometimes on the Internet.

“What is Beaufort County School District’s policy on bullying?

“Any and all incidences of bullying should be reported immediately.

“How are bullying incidents handled in Beaufort County School District?

“• School administration will contact all parties associated with the bullying incident to make sure that all parties are aware of the policy against bullying and the consequences for continuing to bully.

“• Incidents will be documented and parents in all cases will be contacted. 

“• Consequences can be as simple as a warning and as serious as a recommendation for expulsion.

“Visit SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING to report an incident of bullying, harassment, or intimidation. You may choose to include your name or remain completely anonymous.”

It is a cause of great concern for me that this is a matter we, as the adults, strive to teach our children and we expect them to abide by this. But how unbelievably hypocritical can we be when we don’t practice what we preach? 

Children learn through example. Our actions speak louder than words. To put it more simply, how can I expect my son to say “please” and “thank you” if I don’t say “please” or “thank you?” I can’t. He learns by observing me, just like every single student in this district. 

It is incredibly naive and shortsighted to think that our children, the children the board members were elected to represent, do not see this abhorrent behavior. Like I said, my son is 7 and he knows that something is amiss with the grownups. 

Whether you perceive the exercise of the First Amendment by calling for someone’s resignation a threat, or saying you wish someone would just fall off a cliff, or that those who are the perceived “dissenters” will all go to hell, these words are being made public in newsprint and social media. 

I would like to point out that two of the above-mentioned incidents are clear examples of verbal and cyber bullying. The third is a constitutionally protected right. Members of Congress call for the impeachment of our president every day and they aren’t subjected to the same ridicule by their cohorts that one board member has been.

Exercising the First Amendment to freedom of speech and freedom of the press is an essential cornerstone of our government and it is what makes this country great. Responding with wishes of harm, on the other hand, could be construed as a violation of the First Amendment. 

So I have to ask: How do the schools handle verbal and cyber bullying? How can we seriously expect our children to not participate when this is the example? 

Enough finger pointing. Enough name calling. Enough with the threats. We have earned our ages so why don’t we all start acting like we are the adults and stop?

This is counterproductive and only takes away from the important issues. It’s about how to run a school district. It’s about providing all students stellar academic opportunities and athletics and extracurricular activities so that they can grow and become productive and contributing members of society. 

Jennifer Wallace
Beaufort

Thanks to all who helped with Pat Conroy festival

The Pat Conroy Literary Center held our second annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival in partnership with the University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts. 

The festival was a vibrant celebration of the transformative power of education, abounding with literary inspiration, educational workshops, film screenings, poetry readings, panel discussions by a pantheon of writers and teachers, and beautifully staged performances of the musical “Conrack,” an engaging discussion of the life of Beaufort’s iconic Robert Smalls, and guided walking tours through the current Beaufort Middle School — the former Beaufort High School where Pat graduated in 1963 and returned to teach four years later. 

The Conroy Festival was an immersive, heartfelt weekend of unforgettable experiences for our presenters and participants alike because of the dedication and generosity of our many sponsors, partners and volunteers who make the festival not only possible and successful but also an absolute joy to present. 

Being a volunteer is a gift of time that comes from the heart, and we thank each one of the dozens of volunteers from the Pat Conroy Literary Center, the USCB Center for the Arts and the Beaufort County School District who gave their time and talents in support of the Pat Conroy Literary Festival.

We also wish to extend a special thank you to the many Beaufort students who volunteered this year. 

The Conroy Center strives to educate and inspire a community of readers and writers, and at this year’s Conroy Festival it was our community of student volunteers who truly inspired us, emblematic of Pat Conroy’s lifelong commitment to learning and teaching and reflective of his great love for the South Carolina Lowcountry and its diverse voices. We are grateful to the Interact students of Beaufort High School who assisted with the book signing at the Conroy Center: Ellie Stone, Amanda Davenport, Alma Orozco-Rico, Hailey Brancho and Michael Cence. And we also offer a big thank you to the Beaufort Middle School Gryphon ambassadors, who not only helped with the guided walking tours of their school, but who also designed and created posters for the tour: Mason Aimar, Davis Martin, Jack Van Gundy, James Fabian and JaNaya Jackson.

In an essay appearing in “A Lowcountry Heart,” Pat wrote, “I consider the two years in Beaufort when I taught high school as perhaps the happiest time of my life.” Indeed, our time spent working with and getting to know our Beaufort High School and Middle School volunteers was among the happiest memories of this year’s Pat Conroy Literary Festival. Many thanks to those wonderful students.

With great love and great thanks,
Jonathan Haupt and Maura Connelly
Pat Conroy Literary Center

A public safety problem that can no longer be ignored

in Voices by

By Richard Eckstrom 

As I’ve traveled the state over the years, it hasn’t been uncommon for members of the law enforcement community to bring up issues that concern them. And gang activity is one subject that often comes up.

No longer just a big city issue, gang activity is on the rise in even small communities across the state and nation. Sometimes you’ll read about it. However, authorities are regularly investigating gang-related crimes that don’t reach the public’s eye.

Efforts to deal with the menace are frequently complicated by a number of factors – high among them a lack of candor. Politicians, neighborhood leaders and business groups tend to want to put forward the most flattering image possible of their community. Thus, they don’t want the kind of headlines that a focus on gangs might bring.                                                                    

But as those on the front lines will tell you, any successful gang-fighting strategy hinges on public awareness. Citizens must know about the problem, understand the stakes and participate in decisions to restore safety to their streets. Tip-toeing around the problem will only make it worse.

A recent shooting in Columbia reflects a familiar pattern. In mid-September, gunmen opened fire outside a nightclub in the middle of the city, injuring eight people. What was the motive? The curious citizen was left to guess as the details came out at a snail’s pace. 

Initial media reports even omitted the normal details such as a description of the shooters, even after police had identified suspects. Citizens were kept in the dark and were nervous about the unknown threat.

Public statements spoke of the “violence that grips our country,” as if to deflect attention from the violence here locally. And officials have still not outlined what steps they’ll take to avert a problem in the future. 

Most of the information made public came not from local officials but from the FBI, which released specifics about the incident – including details captured on surveillance cameras – after a special agent filed a federal gun charge against one of the suspects.

Ultimately, the shooting was labeled a “music industry” conflict. Whether that’s sugar-coating the issue I can’t say. But if there’s a difference between gang violence and “music industry” violence, it’s certainly a minor one.

An all-too-frequent problem facing local governments is that meat-and-potatoes issues such as public safety take a back seat to big-ticket, headline-grabbing initiatives. Again, Columbia offers a cautionary tale.

Four years ago, the capital city went more than six months without a permanent police chief. Yet officials were loath to publicly mention the police department’s woes. Instead, their focus at the time was on building a shiny new baseball stadium. 

Sadly, this period of instability for the police department came during a period of escalating gang activity and a rash of shootings, including the slaying of a mother of four by documented gang members, and a shooting that left a USC student paralyzed.

The city got its stadium – a nice one, to be sure – and a first-rate minor league team. To some residents, however, the ball park stands as a monument to misplaced priorities … a failing that put people’s safety at risk.

My intent is not to denigrate the city but to encourage an important conversation. Keeping citizens safe is a core function of government, and citizens aren’t well-served when their leaders neglect or gloss over serious challenges, especially violent crime.

Certainly, a community’s sense of pride and image are important to its vitality. But that pride is beneficial when it’s harnessed to solve problems, not when it’s cause to sweep them under the rug. 

Gangs, in particular, are an uncomfortable reality statewide. I’ve spoken with multiple law enforcement professionals who have shared their thoughts on a range of possible solutions. But one sentiment they all share is that the first step toward solving this problem is acknowledging it. 

Richard Eckstrom is a CPA and the SC comptroller.

Train vs. car? I’ll take the train

in Contributors/Lee Scott/Voices by

By Lee Scott

If you have driven anywhere along the I-95 corridor, you have no doubt seen the increase in traffic. 

In addition, you may have noticed there are more accidents and construction projects than ever before. 

Having endured so many trips up and down I-95 myself, I decided to do something completely different. I bought an Amtrak train ticket. Instead of driving 650 miles to Towson, Md. (approximately 10 hours), I decided someone else should do the driving. 

The Palmetto is the Amtrak train that passes through Yemassee. It travels from Miami to New York City, making numerous stops, including the Yemassee Depot. 

I really did not know the Yemassee Station was operational until I started to ask people. Turns out I’m not the only one tired of the car drive.  

When my spouse dropped me off at the train station, I entered the building and realized some of my neighbors were on the same train heading up to Annapolis for the Navy Homecoming. 

They travel by train a lot and enjoy it. They pointed out the black and white photographs of soldiers going off to war hanging on the walls. According to the Yemassee website, from 1915 to 1965, the station was the first place where potential Marine recruits stopped before reaching Parris Island. 

In 2011, a British reality show filmed in Yemassee, and they did a full cosmetic renovation of the depot’s exterior including a new gabled roof, siding and a wrap-around porch.  

In 2016 the town received funds that allowed the interior to be redone. The building has a new restroom, classic wooden benches and a new electrical system.

The ride from Yemassee to Baltimore is estimated to take around 12 hours (give or take). Not knowing what to expect, I brought a book to read, but I never picked up the novel. I chatted with people, had lunch and dinner in the café and took naps. The stops didn’t bother me because they reminded me to get up and stretch my legs.

Looking at the people on the train, I was reminded of a quote from “Murder on the Orient Express” made by M. Bouc: “All around us are people, of all classes, of all nationalities, of all ages.” This was true of the Palmetto Train also.  Yet, unlike the Orient Express, there was no murder mystery to solve except the one in my unread novel. 

I would personally recommend the train for anyone tired of driving. The staff was helpful and friendly and they added to the overall enjoyment of the trip. On top of everything, I arrived at my destination well rested and of good humor.

How we can fight the opioid epidemic together

in Voices by

By Alan Wilson

South Carolina has a drug problem and many elected leaders have begun looking at how best to deal with it. In August, I also took action. My office filed a lawsuit against a company for its role in creating that problem. This lawsuit is not a magical silver bullet that will end this epidemic and the company being sued is not solely to blame for the crisis. However, when we look at the statistics and we read the stories we are left with the inescapable conclusion that we must take action now.

In 2016, South Carolina ranked ninth in the nation in opioid prescribing rates. Since 2011, more than 3,000 South Carolinians have died from prescription opioid overdoses. 

In 2015, there were more deaths in South Carolina from taking prescription opioids or heroin than there were homicides. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of babies born addicted to opioids has quadrupled. There have been more opioid prescriptions written between 2012 and 2016 than there are residents in South Carolina.

There are some who believe that this epidemic only affects “druggies” or heroin users, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that most heroin users started with prescription opioids. More than three out of four new heroin users report abusing prescription opioids first.

Typically, someone gets hurt or has surgery and is given a prescription opioid for pain. Because the drugs are so addictive, they may continue to take the drug even after they should have stopped or at doses that are dangerously high. Once they can no longer get more of the prescription drug, they turn to buying heroin on the street, since heroin is also an opioid. Many of the overdoses happen because the potency of street heroin varies so widely, and sometimes includes fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s even stronger than heroin.  Whether it is prescription opioids, heroin or fentanyl, the result is too often deadly.

Many of our citizens have personally struggled or watched a loved one struggle with this addiction. Many have watched a loved one die from this addiction. As taxpayers, we need to be concerned as well. Since 2007, South Carolina has spent roughly $15.8 million on Purdue opioids through its Medicaid program and more than $28 million through our State Health Plan for public employees. Medicaid spending for OxyContin from 2013 to 2016 was 90 percent more than the closest competitor drug. There has been an additional burden and expense borne by law enforcement, emergency providers and social service agencies, including $6 million dollars in expenses for agencies treating substance abuse disorders alone.

The statistics and stories are alarming and they demand action. That’s why my office has filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin and other opioids. Let me be clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a credible company lawfully selling an approved drug on the free market to people who desperately need it. However, when, as our complaint alleges, a company knowingly markets an extremely dangerous and addictive drug to doctors and patients in a way that leads them to believe that it is not as dangerous or addictive, or more effective, that is a problem.

This lawsuit is one of the ways we can fight the opioid epidemic, however everyone has a role to play. We can all personally fight the epidemic by taking these steps:

• If you have an injury or surgery and a doctor prescribes an opioid for pain, ask if there’s an alternative.

• If you and your doctor decide an opioid is the best option, get it and take it for the shortest time possible. One problem now is that a doctor may prescribe a 30-day supply when all that’s really needed is three or four days.

• If you do have prescription painkillers, keep them locked up so someone else cannot abuse them.

• And if you have leftover pills, dispose of them immediately by taking them to a participating pharmacy that’s a controlled substance public disposal location. You can also take them to your local police department or sheriff’s office that takes part in National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. 

In addition to taking these steps, we all need to become better educated on this threat. 

The opioid epidemic is real and it is devastating our communities, but we can slow and even reverse it by having open conversations and working together. 

Alan Wilson is the SC Attorney General.

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