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Pawleys Island: Power lines come down at the end of 5-year project

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

When the town of Pawleys Island launched a program to move power lines underground, one resident wondered where the birds would sit.

Now that the lines are buried and the power poles have been removed from a portion of the town’s historic district that runs along Myrtle Avenue, organizers of the project wonder how many people will notice.

“I’m willing to bet 60 percent of the people don’t notice it,” said Hayne Hipp, a property owner who has been part of the effort since 2004. But he’s convinced people will catch on to the wireless vista that hasn’t been part of the island since power lines were first strung in the 1930s. “Somebody’s going to say, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’ ”

Hipp hasn’t seen the view. The Greenville resident left this week for a hiking trip along the Appalachian Trail. “I’ll see it on the Fourth of July,” he said.

In 2006, the town considered a $4.5 million plan to move all the utility lines underground both for aesthetic reasons and to make the infrastructure less vulnerable to storm damage. It was estimated to cost property owners $450 to $650 over 20 years. A non-binding vote of property owners found 60 percent favored the project, but Town Council decided that wasn’t enough of a mandate.

Instead, Hipp helped organize 47 property owners between the South Causeway and the Bird’s Nest for an underground wire project. The town committed funds from the franchise fee paid by Santee Cooper. Property owners would pay $2,500 each toward the $360,000 project.

While the town worked with the utilities and permitting agencies, Hipp worked with the property owners.

“I didn’t realize it was going to be that complex,” he said. “It was a challenge to track down all the families.”

Some had multiple owners who spanned a couple of generations.

“Pawleys Island is Pawleys Island and most people said, ‘Sure, I’ll do that,’ ” Hipp said. “I didn’t run into a genuine grouch – well, maybe one or two, but I won’t publicly identify them.”

Objections to an island-wide project were mostly financial. Planning coincided with a county reassessment of property for taxes.

The smaller project also had financial hurdles, particularly as the U.S. economy fell into recession. The town also gave up a $40,000 historic preservation grant because the red tape would have delayed the project by a couple of years.

Some people said they couldn’t afford the project, but others offered to pay more to help out, Hipp said.

“I feel pretty good about it,” he said.

And from what he’s heard about the view from his wife and Mayor Bill Otis, he’ll feel even better when he sees the final result.

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