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Pawleys Island: Utility project gets vote of support – with checkbooks

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A nonbinding ballot this spring showed 80 percent of Pawleys Island property owners supported a plan to move electric and cable lines underground in a $4.2 million project.

A more meaningful measure of support came this month when 64 percent of the owners in the project area sent in their first payment. The town will fund $2.5 million and is responsible for covering any costs that aren’t covered by the owners, who were asked to pay $350 a year for 10 years.

Mayor Bill Otis said he was pleased with the response to the first billing. The town didn’t to make the payments mandatory because the project doesn’t include every parcel. (Some already have underground wires.) That would have required complex legal work to create a tax district.

Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility, is doing the work. It is awaiting environmental permits to begin the first phase, which includes burying the lines that cross Pawleys Creek, said Ryan Fabbri, the town’s assistant administrator. The supply line now runs along the South Causeway. The project will add a second line over the North Causeway and include the groundwork for a third link under the creek between Pritchard Street and Waterford Road on the mainland.

Construction is due to start this year although there are still a handful of outstanding construction easements. “It’s not a deal breaker,” Fabbri said.

Without those easements, it’s possible poles could be left in front of those parcels, Otis said. “Long-term, that takes away the benefits,” he said. In the short-term, it may convince the owners to allow construction under their property.

There are 415 parcels in the project. Owners of 25 of those paid the full cost, $3,380. Another 54 said they would split their payments in fourths. Two plan to pay the total in two years, Fabbri said.

Work is expected to take three years because no work will be done during the summer tourist season.

The underground wire project will have another impact on the town. Accounting for the funds from property owners and making payments to Santee Cooper will leave the town with a deficit in its operating budget for the first time since it was founded almost 30 years ago. The town will finish the year with a $813,089 deficit, Otis said. Next year, the deficit will drop to $409,951.

The town has a reserve of about $8 million, but Otis said the red ink may come as a surprise to people who are used to seeing town budgets with a healthy surplus.

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