Monday, January 10, 2011

Legislature prepares to suit up

Bluffton Today

Tuesday, Jan. 11, is the constitutionally mandated opening day for the next session of the South Carolina General Assembly. Your Beaufort County delegation is ready to suit up and advance your legislative agenda. We have heard from you on any number of issues and are prepared to do what’s necessary to have an outstanding and productive session.

Much of the groundwork has been done so we can see real progress on the education funding front. While some of the local particulars are being sorted out in Rep. Shannon Erickson’s fact finding committee, we understand the broad outlines of what needs to happen for Beaufort County and other fast growing counties to receive a fair share of state education dollars.

One of the first matters we will tackle has to do with new beach setback lines and other regulations from the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). While I endorse the policy of retreating from the ocean as far as general development regulations are concerned, I also believe we need to recognize the concerns of property owners whose rights are threatened by portions of the new regulation. I would prefer to hash these matters out in a legislative context among all the parties in the spirit of goodwill, rather than leave it to the courts.

A number of the many calls and e-mails we got this week had to do with the beach renourishment check that was presented a few weeks ago by your representative and Rep. Andy Patrick to the leaders of the town of Hilton Head. After all, $1 million is a lot of money, especially as we are still in a recession-driven fiscal emergency. Even though those dollars are a direct benefit to our area, it was heartening to hear folks ask where the funding came from, how did we get it and is that the best use for the money at this time. Those are serious, legitimate questions that deserve an answer. Here’s the story:

A little over two years ago, in the process of doing research on another aspect of the budget, I found the dollars in a beach renourishment superfund that had been spent down to around $1.6 million. These reserve funds are customarily distributed on a rotating basis, and upon further research, I found we were long overdue to receive a share of the reserve. It seems a former house member had hidden the funds with an eye toward double dipping for his district. After completing my investigation, I met with officials from the town of Hilton Head, primarily former Mayor Tom Peeples and Town Manager Steve Riley to see if we could secure these dollars and how would it coordinate with their capital projects schedule. After more than two years of attentive and painstaking work and nearly 20 meetings with DHEC, the town and other interested parties, the check was presented.

When you read in the paper that a $1 million went to put sand on the beach at Hilton Head Island, you only got the culmination of a long and surprisingly complex story. As to whether it is the right place and time to invest those dollars on beach sand, I say absolutely it is. The role that tourism plays in our local economy cannot be overstated. If all my personal investments paid off as handsomely as placing sand on Hilton Head beaches, I would be playing bridge with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.