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Pawleys Island: Some poles may stand after underground wire project

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The first phase of a project to move electric and cable television lines underground on Pawleys Island may end up with three sets of power poles. Three of the 78 property owners in the area between the North and South causeways have not signed construction easements, Mayor Bill Otis said.

The project was supposed to begin last week, but Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility that is managing the project, had not received permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to work in the wetlands.

The $4.2 million project will place lines underground at 415 properties and install a second transmission line over the North Causeway. The town will pay $2.5 million and property owners will pay the balance. The first bills went out in October and all but 74 sent in payments. About a quarter of the payments were for the full project cost of $3,380. Owners can pay $350 a year for up to 10 years.

Because portions of the town already have underground lines, the town decided it was too complicated to create a special tax district. Payments are voluntary.

Of the 74 outstanding, “there are people on here I absolutely know are going to pay,” Otis said.

The construction easements are less certain. One owner told the town and the utility that the project will reduce his property value. He wants to be paid for the easement,” Otis said. Another has not responded to letters and phone calls.

Santee Cooper will work around the three properties if the owners don’t grant easements and leave the power poles standing. “It’s going to make it pretty obvious who did and who did not grant easements,” Otis said.

The town believes the underground lines will be less prone to storm damage and will improve the look of the island. If there are poles at some houses, it defeats the purpose of the project, Council Member Sarah Zimmerman said.

The town could take legal action to secure easements, but Otis said he wants to wait to pursue that route. The project is planned in phases over the next five years, with no work being done during the summer tourist season.

Insurance rates | The town of Pawleys Island will move forward with a measure it hopes will cut flood insurance premiums for property owners. The town now has a Class 6 rating from a program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that qualifies owners for a 20 percent reduction. It is aiming at Class 4 and a 30 percent discount.

“We’re going to go for the 4,” Otis said, and skip Class 5. Last year, the town revised its development regulations to require structures be elevated 3 feet above the minimum required by FEMA to qualify for federal-subsidized flood insurance.

The town will also have to increase its public education program to garner points toward the improved rating, Otis said. The town’s current rating saves property owners a total of $279,000 a year in premiums.

The town will also educate owners about Midway Fire and Rescue’s improved rating from the Insurance Services Organization. It dropped from Class 4/9 to Class 2.

“This can be a significant advantage to our property owners,” Otis said.

Groin repair | Consultants are working with state regulators to determine what permits are needed for the town to make repairs to the 23 rock groins along the beachfront. Coastal Science and Engineering last year conducted an assessment of the groins, designed to trap sand that moves in currents parallel to the beach. It found they held most of the sand placed on the beach during a 1998 nourishment project, but said they all need repair.

The cost ranges from $117,000 to $351,000 depending on how much damage is below the sand and wasn’t detected by the survey.

Howard Ward Day | At 623 Doyle Ave., overlooking the southern reach of Pawleys Creek, every day is Howard Ward Day. On Saturday, the rest of Pawleys Island will feel the same glow.

Town Council proclaimed Jan. 17 Howard Ward Day this week as Ward listened by phone. He is undergoing cancer treatments.

Ward was elected to the council in 2012. He was chairman of the Planning Commission and a board member of the Pawleys Island Civic Association.

Saturday is his 75th birthday.

Ward didn’t stay on the line for the whole meeting. After the vote, he got on another line and called his grandchildren.

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