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Water expansion project key to Dorchester Co. development plans, leaders say

DORCHESTER COUNTY, SC (WCSC) -

When you drive up Dorchester county along I-26, you see lots of trees and maybe an occasional fast food restaurant or gas station. But because there's no surface water, there's very little major development here.

Even near the interchange for I-95, a major intersection, there are no gas stations, restaurants or hotels, leading some people to give it the unflattering nickname, "Nothing, South Carolina."

"This is somewhat of an anomaly because you have those two interchanges over 40,000 cars passing on I-95 each day and we have very little development," Dorchester County Administrator Jason Ward says.

Dorchester county has been passed over for decades, as big manufacturers headed farther east, into Berkeley and Charleston counties.

"If you look at our workforce, 60 percent of our workforce leaves the county each day to go to work, and that's a trend that we want to reverse by having business and industry in Dorchester County," Ward says.

To change that, some county leaders say the sound of the future of Dorchester County is drilling. Crews working in the Seven Mile Road area of Harleyville are prepping the ground to lay a water main that will pump water into rural Dorchester County towns.

Ward says in rural parts of the county, every home and business get water from a well. Even the two cement plants operate on well water.

"If you want to have industrial development, if you want to have denser residential development, you have to have public water and the most reliable source of public water is surface water," Ward says.

Harleyville Mayor Charles Ackerman says the water system located in Santee provides the answer.

"The wells only produce so much water per minute and so you're looking with this water system, it should give you an unlimited supply," Ackerman says. "We have I-26 two miles away, I-95 eight miles away, so we got a good location here for industry to come. And that's what we hoping and counting on for this water line coming in that will help us do that."

As the new water system heads into upper Dorchester county, water will flow from the treatment plant, down state roads and highways, into Harleyville, Ridgeville and eventually St. George.

"I think that could really be a game changer for this part of our world," Ward says.

At a staging area near the Giant Cement plant there are dozens of blue and black pipes. Six hundred-thousand gallons will flow through the blue 16-inch pipes. The black pipes are the casings that will surround the blue ones to protect them in vulnerable areas.

The waterline expansion is part of a bigger project called the Lake Marion Regional Water Authority. Federal, state and local lawmakers started digging into, back in the 90s. Thanks to that funding, they are finally moving earth, in upper Dorchester county. And that could make a world of difference.

"I think within a year, people will look at Dorchester County differently," Ward says. "I think they'll see Dorchester County as a major player in terms of sighting industry and business in the Tri-County region."

The waterline expansion should be complete in February of next year for Harleyville, and by July, 2017 in Ridgeville. St. George will be the last to get the water expansion. At this time, no date has been set for completion.

County leaders say they are ready to compete.

"I don't have a specific company that i want to see come here, but I want to see a company come here that will create 500-1000 jobs, really be a good anchor tenant so we can build around that," Ward says.

Copyright 2015 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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