Sunday, February 8, 2009

Digging deep: Counties hope there’s money in federal pockets for their projects

By LEE TANT, T&D Staff Writer Sunday, February 08, 2009

As Washington politicians iron out their differences on a federal stimulus package, local officials have already submitted lists of projects they hope the package will fund.

Water and sewer system upgrades and better interstate access are among the most popular items on counties’ wish lists of “shovel-ready” projects that can be started in at least 18 months.

The timing of the stimulus bill couldn’t be better, according to Orangeburg County Development Commission Executive Director Gregg Robinson.

“We’ve done a lot of the groundwork to move forward with the next stages, which are funding,” Robinson said.

He says the infrastructure projects would create jobs immediately in the county, which has seen soaring jobless rates in recent months.

“We have an unacceptable level of poverty. We can fix that poverty by creating an environment for companies to make money. How we do that is through infrastructure,” Robinson said.

For example, he says improvements to the county’s railroad system would spark increased distribution from ports in Savannah and Charleston while improving traffic along Interstate 26.

Boosting employment and improving infrastructure should bring back consumer confidence, help attract top companies and increase tax revenue, Robinson said.

But Robinson noted the county doesn’t know how much stimulus money it will get yet.

Since there will be no Congressional earmarks in the stimulus bill, the money will be distributed by various state agencies, according to Hope Derrick, spokesperson for U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.

The S.C. Department of Transportation will decide where highway and bridge funding ends up. Spokesman Pete Poore said SCDOT is taking a wait-and-see approach regarding stimulus money.

According to the House version of the stimulus bill, South Carolina would get a total of $3.2 billion. Derrick pointed out the Senate bill, being debated now, could vary greatly from the House version.

Clyburn included a provision in the House bill that sends at least 10 percent of rural development funding to high-poverty counties. Orangeburg and Bamberg counties fall under that category, Derrick said.

Bamberg County Administrator Rose Dobson-Elliott said the high concentration of low-income families in her county makes it an ideal candidate for stimulus money.

“If we get what we ask for, it would put us in a position to compete,” she said.

Orangeburg County Administrator Bill Clark expects some competition for the money.

“At that point, the projects will speak for themselves,” Clark said.

The following is a glance at the “shovel-ready” projects counties have submitted for consideration:

Orangeburg County

“One project supports the other,” Clark says.

Those projects are the Interstate 95/U.S. 301 interchange and extending U.S. 301 into S.C. Highway 6.

Clark said those additions, which total $50 million, would support the county’s Global Logistics Triangle.

Another $36 million in proposed road construction would improve access to the planned $600 million Jafza facility near Santee, Clark said.

Orangeburg and Dorchester counties are jointly asking for $554 million to make enhancements to and widen I-26 and I-95. Those interstates intersect near the Orangeburg/Dorchester border.

Clark said both counties have mutual interests to improve the interstate highways for economic development.

The county has put upgrading more than 40 miles of railroads and building a $34 million logistics center for trains on its stimulus wish list.

Clark said those proposed projects would not solely benefit Jafza, adding they would also support anticipated spin-off developments in the logistics triangle.

“This would bring money to impact the entire eastern portion of Orangeburg County,” he said.

He cited as an example the possible development of a business park by Charleston-based World Trade City, a potential $1 billion investment, near Bowman.

Other items on the list include a $23 million regional wastewater facility in the John W. Matthews Industrial Park and $15 million for other industrial park enhancements.

A regional health and government services center in Holly Hill and a county wellness center off St. Matthews Road round out the county’s list.

Bamberg County

A $46.5 million water/sewer system upgrade is the big ticket item up for stimulus consideration in Bamberg.

Dobson-Elliott said the possible investment would create a countywide system and build a water plant in Olar to service the lower portion of the county.

She believes that construction will open up areas for housing and industrial development, in addition to creating jobs for years to come.

The county also hopes it will secure $25 million to widen U.S. 78. It is also seeking $5 million to renovate the Bamberg County Hospital.

Courthouse renovations and a new law enforcement complex, which have a combined price tag of $20 million, are other items on the list.

Calhoun County

A $20 million interchange at Savanny Hunt Creek Road and I-26 would be a coup for Calhoun County’s future economic development, County Administrator Lee Prickett says.

“For five or six years, there has been tremendous truck traffic on Frontage Road (which runs parallel to I-26),” he said. Prickett said the interchange would open up that part of the county to attract new businesses.

Prickett would also like to see funding for the plethora of water/wastewater projects, totaling $36.9 million, on the county’s list.

His county wants to build infrastructure to tap into water and wastewater access from Orangeburg County. Calhoun County would pay a fee to Orangeburg County for those services, he said.

Prickett said water improvements to the Midway and New Bethany areas and linking the county’s water systems together are also priorities.

“The long-term goal is to have a countywide water system,” he said.

Other stimulus requests include a $1.3 million Sandy Run government complex and expanding the parking lot at the county courthouse.

T&D Staff Writer Lee Tant can be reached by e-mail at ltant@times or by phone at 803-534-1060. Discuss this and other stories online at

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