THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Port of Georgetown: Rice says dredging permits won’t be an issue
By Jason Lesley
U.S. 7th District Rep. Tom Rice says the federal government is its own worst enemy when it comes to infrastructure.
He met with representatives of the Corps of Engineers last week to discuss a variety of projects in his district, including dredging Georgetown’s port, that would put thousands of people to work.
“All of us sitting in the room were lucky to have a job,” Rice said of his meeting with the corps. “We are talking about 30,000 people who don’t have jobs and who desperately need them. It’s time to streamline the process and make these things happen.
“With resources to put infrastructure in place so limited, the government is running its own costs up. For example, I-73, where it takes years and years to try and pull a permit through, and they run the cost up so high. We are really just fighting ourselves. We are slapping ourselves around, holding ourselves down, holding up our own progress.”
He said the port’s dredging should be an exception.
“The corps is not a holdup on the port,” Rice said. “They don’t have any issues. It’s not going to take years to get a permit. It’s just locating the money to do it, and there are some angles being worked with the state right now which may bear fruit.”
The port dredging has been a top priority locally for its job-creating potential. County voters defeated a 1-cent capital improvement sales tax last November that would have set aside $5 million for dredging along with $35 million for other uses.
State Sen. Yancey McGill told county business leaders the state has $18.5 million set aside for the Georgetown port if local funds can be raised. County Council Members Ron Charlton and Bob Anderson have suggested revising the Capital Improvement Plan to fund dredging.
Rice thinks his committee assignments put him in position to help the infrastructure needs of his district. He is on the Transportation Committee and the Water Resources subcommittee as well as the Budget Committee.
“You can’t do earmarks,” Rice said, “but you can certainly allocate, not for specific projects, but for areas. It’ll be interesting to see how it all works out. I’m sure I’ll be advocating very hard for the infrastructure needs of this district.”
Rice said the U.S. has lost many of the advantages that lured businesses in the past, but it can’t stop maintaining and building infrastructure. “Historically we have been the big guy on the block,” he said, “and business was going to come here because the market was here, the capital was here, the infrastructure was here. That’s not true any more. The world has shrunk. Other people have come up, and we are just standing still.”
Rice sees one of his main functions as an elected official to intervene when government breaks down. He cited the widening of Highway 707 between Murrells Inlet and Socastee as an example. He said the widening project is fully funded with local money, but the Corps of Engineers has held up the project for three years.
“The road is carrying three times the traffic it was designed for,” Rice said. “It has two high schools, a middle school and an elementary school on it. Two pedestrians have been hit in the past three months. It’s dangerous, but we have been fighting over a permit for years.”