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Ice storm: Costs tallied in days, not dollars

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Officials took last week’s winter storm seriously, and the public seems to have benefitted from their caution.

There was not a single auto accident on Highway 17 on the first night of freezing rain, according to Doug Eggiman, chief of Midway Fire and Rescue. He said drivers were cautious in the conditions, and a reduction in the number of cars on the road also helped.

Midway brought in extra crews for the storm, Eggiman said, in case there was a rash of emergencies. The department didn’t experience its first weather-related call, a downed power line, until Wednesday morning.

“People from climates that have ice and snow regularly might be amused by our caution, but those places have heavy equipment to deal with it while we don’t,” Eggiman said.

Ray George, maintenance engineer for the S.C. Department of Transportation’s District 5, which includes Georgetown County, said his crews used a lot of sand, salt and brine to keep roads open.

“It was a little bit better than we thought,” George said. “We didn’t get quite as much snow as it called for. Georgetown County had more ice. We worked last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and did the best we could.”

Costs of the materials and labor to keep the roads clear, George said, have not been calculated.

Santee Cooper ramped up for the storm but did not experience a single outage, according to spokesman Molly Gore. Line repair crews from Florida and Louisiana were alerted but sent home.

“Customers should be prepared for higher utility bills,” Gore said. “January was an extremely cold month.”

The Georgetown County School District closed schools for three days and delayed the start of classes on the fourth day. “The only cost I can see is the academic cost,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said.

Closing the buildings may have saved some money, he said. There were no reports of damage.

There is legislation in the General Assembly to forgive up to five missed days from the 180 days mandated for instruction. Georgetown County schools will make up one of those days on Feb. 18. Dozier has asked school principals to come up with ways to make up the missed instructional time before the end of March, when students begin the first round of state standardized tests.

“I think it’s important we make the time up,” Dozier said.

Two half days on the schedule in June could become full days, but that won’t help prepare students for the tests, he said.

Among the options are shorter periods for art, music and physical education. Dropping field trips. Shifting club activities until after school and canceling pep rallies. “You can make your time up fairly quickly,” Dozier said. “Not that art and music aren’t important, but we’re not tested on them.”

Shorter meal times and recess won’t be considered, he added. The district also won’t curtail the spring break. Even if it did, Dozier said students wouldn’t show up and it would impact attendance numbers which are a factor in state funding.

Sara Miller, vice president for horticulture and conservation at Brookgreen Gardens, said the ice coating was better for plants than the frosts and extreme cold earlier this month. The ice served as an insulator for the leaves against the cold.

The danger, particularly in the city of Georgetown, was that the weight of the ice would break limbs on the live oaks lining the streets and bring down power lines.

Ray Funnye, county director of Public Works, said his department handled just two or three instances of tree limbs blocking roads. In fact, Funnye said his department used the storm as an opportunity to practice its winter emergency procedures. The storm made no impact on the county’s budget, he said.

“It was a good practice run for us to put in place the exercises to work in winter conditions,” Funnye said. “We’ve always practiced for hurricane related conditions, but very seldom do we have those kinds of icy conditions. We had an opportunity to test our facilities, policies and practices. We learned a few things in the process of what we need to do to be prepared for the next storm.”

Funnye said he offered the county’s resources to DOT for road clearing, but they were not needed.

“It was a mild event,” he said, “but it allowed us to get in that mode. That’s important.”

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