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Gov. McMaster proposes $500M infrastructure improvement plan

Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 5:58 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 28, 2021 at 8:17 PM EDT
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CHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Gov. Henry McMaster proposed a half-billion-dollar spending plan Thursday to improve the state’s sewers, stormwater, and water systems.

McMaster says that infrastructure is holding back the state’s rural communities because it is so outdated in many cities and towns.

“The right water and sewer assets in a county such as this one can transform a tax base,” the governor said. “That means good jobs, good schools, strong families, and a safe and vibrant community, and that means happiness and prosperity for all of our people.”

When businesses and developers are looking to build in South Carolina’s rural communities, state and local leaders said Thursday that aging sewer and water infrastructure can lead them to move their plans elsewhere.

“It stops a deal quicker than anything,” Rep. Randy Ligon, R-Chester, says.

“They may access these funds to install new water and wastewater infrastructure that, for the first time, may allow them to attract business and industries to their areas,” Municipal Association of South Carolina Executive Director Todd Glover says.

McMaster says he wants the state to use $500 million it will receive from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act for those upgrades in rural communities. President Joe Biden signed the ARPA into law in March to speed up recovery from economic and health impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In total, the state government is set to receive about $2.4 billion from this funding, with separate allocations marked for South Carolina’s local governments, K-12 education, and higher education.

The final report from accelerateSC, a task force assigned to recommend how to revitalize South Carolina’s economy following the pandemic, advised in August that the state put part of its federal money toward these water infrastructure upgrades.

South Carolina’s rural sewer, stormwater and water systems are between 47- and 50-years-old on average, according to the Rural Infrastructure Authority.

“In our experience, rural systems have often relied on short-term fixes for long-term problems,” Department of Health and Environmental Control Environmental Affairs Director Myra Reece says.

McMaster says the money to make these fixes would be divided up based on three priorities: economic development for poorer counties, public health needs, and regionalization, which he says means incentivizing smaller and larger water systems to connect.

“In rural South Carolina, water and sewer is the key to life, just like oxygen. It’s the key to good health. It’s key to economic health. It’s key to a community’s health,” McMaster says.

He says a requirement for cities and towns to match the funding they would get with their own money is being considered but unlikely to happen since many communities would not be able to afford this.

“There’s no way we can match, dollar for dollar, what the more populated areas of South Carolina can do for their citizens. We do not have the tax base. We will never have enough money to match the funds,” Sen. Penry Gustafson, R-Kershaw, said.

The governor did not say if communities’ allocations would be capped at a certain amount.

“We would expect to be able to assist quite a number of people with these funds,” South Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority Executive Director Bonnie Ammons said.

The project would need approval from the General Assembly before communities would be able to apply for funding. At this point, neither House nor Senate leaders have publicly announced plans to return to Columbia for a special session before they are scheduled to go back for their regular session in January.

Other proposals that McMaster has previously announced to use the state government’s American Rescue Plan money include an expansion of I-73 in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee and a widening of I-26 between Columbia and Charleston.

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