Last week, our team was dealing with the impacts of Hurricane Irma, which was a tropical storm by the time it made its way to our area. We were fortunate to have minimal damage, and the biggest deterrent was loss of electricity at some of our sewer pump stations that do not have generators. Andy Metts and his team worked with DHEC to mitigate two small overflows, and all is back to normal.
As I have said many times in this column, I very much appreciate the hard work of our utilities department to ensure our customer’s sewer issues are resolved quickly, efficiently and professionally. And our customers are noticing this improved customer service and letting us know. A week doesn’t go by when we don’t receive an email or letter from one of our utility customers complimenting the efforts of our team. This week Matt Cameron was commended by a new Chapin resident that appreciated him clearing a sewer line that clogged upstream from the resident’s LETT tank. Matt could have easily referred him to a plumber, but he took the initiative to solve the problem with his equipment and to get water flowing again for this family. Thank you Matt and to all our maintenance and operations team for their customer service focus and attention to detail. You make us all #ChapinProud!
One of the things we hear frequently from community surveys and resident comments is improving our town’s infrastructure. We have two major projects in the works right now that are aimed at reducing traffic congestion and improving public safety – the Murray Lindler roundabout, which is located just beyond town limits, and the S-48 corridor improvements of widening Columbia Avenue and creating a new road connecting to Lexington Avenue and Amicks Ferry Road. While we are certainly supportive of both these projects and have been actively involved in meetings for months, if not years, to help them come to fruition, one aspect that has become apparent is the cost of relocating our town’s utilities lines as required by SCDOT. SCDOT does not cover the costs of relocating these lines in their project estimates; the town, SCE&G, and communications companies (AT&T, Time Warner) all bear the burden of this expense. The latter are all major corporations with budgets that dwarf the Town of Chapin’s annual budget. And moving gravity sewer lines is much more complicated than moving conduit or power lines because you can’t create angular connections and still get the performance needed to move sewage to the wastewater treatment plant.
We were informed by SCDOT this spring about relocating the line for the Murray Lindler project and that is going to cost us roughly $200,000 to make those changes. This wasn’t a budgeted expense, so we have council approval to shift funds to be able to accommodate this project moving forward. Last week, our utilities team met with the S-48 consultants to see what conflicts might exist related to the widening of Columbia Avenue. More accurately, they provided staff with their engineered drawings and told them to figure out what the conflicts were going to be and provide designs for how we would accommodate this road project. According to Andy Metts, we will need to hire an outside consultant to take on a project of this size because our staff won’t have the time or resources to conduct this detailed work, at a cost ranging over six figures. In addition, the actual construction costs of moving and modifying these lines could exceed one million dollars. These types of projects should be covered by SCDOT and not borne by municipalities that continue to receive less of the local government funding than is appropriated by state law.
Our town of 1600 people does not have the ability to absorb major financial expenses like these. We have an aging sewer system that frequently requires maintenance and repairs, and these aren’t going to slow down as we continue to grow. The town must look at ways to work with our legislators to address the funding of these local infrastructure projects as well as other unfunded mandates. The town needs to expand its borders to allow a greater cost-sharing of expenses to make projects like these more manageable. These are real-life issues facing our town, and we need leaders that are willing and able to step up and do what is right for our community.
This past week I had the pleasure of speaking with Maggie Prochak and Griffin Spires, both second graders at Chapin Elementary working on their community school project. I will continue to share with you, the experiences I have and enjoy with young people, as it is one of my favorite things to do as Mayor.