Everyone who is above ground has heard about all the controversy concerning the water line that was installed along Hwy. 311 in 2008.
When scores of taxpayers who live in the area and the media began to ask questions, everyone received the same “party line” from those responsible for installing this water line:
Supervisor Dan Davis contends the Hwy 311 water line was approved by Council in 2003, before he came to office.
Chairman Daniel Davis continued and stated that there were a number of issues with regard to some actions taken by Water and Sanitation over the years. An audit had been ordered and was in process at this time. The audit would include six years of BCWS activities. It was uncertain at what point the audit process was at, but Chairman Daniel Davis certainly hoped to have the results by the end of this year. The audit should answer all questions of concern when completed.
(Regular Council meeting, 6/22/09, pgs. 6 & 24)
Mr. Rogers continued and stated that he came before Council on November 26, 2003, and presented to Council BCWS’s recommendation of its next future projects. The Cross Water Project was one of those projects. It was approved to move forward with the projects.
(Regular Council meeting, 6/22/09, pg. 18)
The first and most important problem with this part of his statement is that there was no Council meeting on 11/26/03. The remainder of his statement strains reason.
Mr. Rogers continued and informed Council of how and where the water stopped on Highway 311. Mr. Rogers stated that he had no idea where Mr. Pinckney lived. As Mr. Rogers rode Highway 311, he reached the point of a wooded area approximately one mile long with one house at the edge of the area. There were also lowlands in there which would be a problem environmentally crossing. Mr. Rogers returned to the engineers and stated that to be a good place to stop running the waterline. That is where BCWS stopped. In was not until three months later that Mr. Rogers found out that BCWS had just passed Mr. Pinckney’s house with the waterline. Mr. Rogers stated that Mr. Pinckney did not have one thing to do with BCWS stopping that waterline where it did. The decision was made after a housing count was completed and reaching the point of the long wooded area with no houses.
(Regular Council meeting 6/22/09, pg. 18)
Mr. Micah Miley, BCWS Engineering Director, stated the timeline at the start of hiring engineers and contractors, as follows:
• In 2003, the project was listed as one of the capital projects, as mentioned.
• The project itself was referred to as the Cross Area Water Project.
• An environmental impact document was completed, as required by EPA, because there was an EPA portion of water to Cross schools project. In that document, BCWS looked at all the paved roads in the Cross Area. It was included into the scope of the original
project, as there was a plan in place to evaluate all paved roads in the area.
• June 2004, the project was still listed in the capital projects.
• June 2005, BCWS requested qualifications for engineers to design the project.
• January 2006, Council approved entering into a contract with Engineering Resources Corporation (ERC) for the design services of the project.
• The contract between ERC and BCWS included the original map of the Highway 311 Project with the Cross Area Water Project as down Highway 311 to where it stopped.
• February 2006, BCWS held a pre-design meeting with ERC, and minutes of the meeting reflect that the same scope of the project down Highway 311 to where it was currently terminated was in the project.
• March 2006, the engineer began surveying down along Highway 311 for the project.
• October 2006, plans were first submitted to BCWS from ERC.
• March 2007, second revisions with BCWS comments were submitted back.
• July 2007, the permit was submitted to the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), reflecting the number of services and scope of project as originally conceived. March 2008, construction for the project was advertised for bids.
• April 2008, County Council awarded the construction project for the entire Cross Area Water Project, including Short Cut Road and some others, along with Highway 311, for a total of cost of $2,240,000.
(Regular Council meeting, 6/22/09, pgs. 18-19)
Unfortunately for Mr. Miley, there is no bullet for Council's approval of the project.
Now that we have all enjoyed the fairy stories, lets look at the actual facts.
In the fall of 2008, GE&P attempted to go through the proper channels to obtain information on this topic. We submitted FOIA requests to both BCW&SA and to Berkeley County government. We received literally reams of information in reply. The big problems were that few of the documents we received contained information pertinent to the Hwy. 311 Water Project and none of our questions were answered by any of these documents. We re-submitted our request. This time we were informed that the information we requested was going to cost us money and a lot of it.
GE&P likes to play games as much as the next person but we soon tired of this game. We decided to take a different approach to secure the information we wanted. All information here in contained was obtained from the following sources: Minutes of County Council meetings, located on the BC web site, summery of CDBG (Community Development Block Grants) for the past five years, provided by COG, (Council of Governments) BCW&SA Capital Improvements Projects lists, BCW&SA Five year Surveys, BCW&SA budgets, BCW&SA bond issues, and copies of the actual contracts awarded to construction companies installing the various water line projects within the Cross area. Since GE&P had no cooperation from either BCW&SA or BC government, it has taken many months to accumulate these documents.
The way the BCW&SA is supposed to operate is quite simple. Every year, they come to Council with a list of proposed projects. Council listens to the presentation and, after much discussion, decides which projects will be approved. Then one list (Capital Improvements Projects list) is compiled for water projects, one for sewer projects, and one for landfill projects. The approved projects are first on each list. There are other projects listed for consideration at some later date but only the approved projects should be pursued. The unapproved projects are referred to as “the wish list”.
This approval process is the first step in getting any project done. After the initial approval of a project, BCW&SA must return to Council for approval at every major step of the process. BCW&SA must receive approval to apply for the CDBG, (Community Development Block Grant) the contract for engineering and design, and the contract for the actual construction of the project. Also, every major project must be assigned to a bond. When the rules are followed, Council approval is required throughout the process. Now, let's see what the official BC documents reveal about how the Hwy. 311 water project was handled.
At the meeting of the Water and Sanitation committee on 2/10/03, there was an extensive discussion as to which proposed water projects should be approved by Council for the 2004 Capital Improvements Projects List. Many members of Council and members of staff expressed preferences as to which projects should take precedence. Mr. Steve Davis was the chairman of the Water and Sanitation committee at that time.
Supervisor Rozier stated with water projects, BCW&SA can fund about $3,700 per house; and $3,900 plus for sewer.
Mr. Hehn stated that was a break-even point.
Supervisor Rozier stated they did not take water to communities that were not surveyed about wanting water.
Mr. Jennings stated Projects 1-8 is what he proposes for water. He stated
that 9-17 are projects they have been requested to price and analyze.
The Cross Water Project containing the Hwy. 311 water line was #16 on the CIP list Mr. Jennings proposed. It was #21 of the 21 projects listed on the 2003 Capital Improvements Projects list for water projects. It was #28 on a list of 30 on the 2004 Capital Improvements Projects list. Again, the projects on the Capital Improvements Projects list that had not been approved by Council were referred to as the “wish list”.
As a result of the 2/10/03 meeting, a Special Council meeting was called for 3/06/03. At this meeting, the final list of water projects was put to a vote. The Cross Area Water Project was NOT on the list. The following excerpts from the minutes support this fact.
It was moved by Council member Spooner and seconded by Council member Fish to approve the 2004 Water Improvements in the amount of $1,760,000;Shulerville/Honeyhill, $4,200,000; Cross Schools, $3,265,000; Telemetry, $55,000; and the Sangaree Water Project, $440,000, for the total amount of $9,720,000 that would result in no increase in water rates. (pg. 2)
Council member Steve Davis offered an amendment to the motion that the following projects be included: Spier’s Circle; Swamp Fox; Umbria Road; United Drive; and Oakley Road Water Projects. (pg. 2)
Upon call for the vote on the amendment to include Spier’s Circle, $174,500; Swam Fox, $1,370,000; Umbria Road, $753,250; United Drive, $1,635,900; and Oakley Road, $350,600 for a total of $4,284,250 and a $1.84 water rate increase, the motion on the amendment failed with 6 “Nays” and 2 “Ayes.” (pg. 8)
It was moved by Council member Steve Davis that East Church Street Water Project, $651,500; McCrae Drive, $189,200; Alvin Water Project, $1,160,000 for a total of $2,000,700 for a water rate increase of $.86 be included with Council member Spooner’s motion; seconded by Council member Pinckney. (pg.8)
The vote on the second amendment to include East Church Street Water Project, $651,500; McCrae Drive, $189,200; Alvin Water Project, $1,160,000 for a total of $2,000,700 for a water rate increase of $.86 the motion failed with 6 “Nays” and 2“Ayes.”
The vote to approve the Projects included in Council member Spooner’s motion,which were the 2004 Water Improvements in the amount of $1,760,000; Shulerville/Honeyhill, $4,200,000; Cross Schools, $3,265,000; Telemetry, $55,000; and the Sangaree Water Project, $440,000, for the total amount of $9,720,000 that would result in no increase in water rates passed by unanimous voice vote of Council. (A copy of the motion with the prepared list of Water projects is attached hereto and by reference is made a part hereof.) (pg. 9)
The Cross Area Water Project was NOT approved by Council in 2003. The Cross Area Water Project, containing the Hwy. 311 water line, remained on the Capital Improvements Projects List until 2005. Every year, it was at or near the bottom of the “wish list”. After 2005, the Hwy 311 Water Line Project is not mentioned in the County Council records. The Hwy. 311 Water Line Project was not mentioned in the 2005 Bond Issue. It was not mentioned in any of the subsequent Capital Improvements Projects lists. It was not mentioned in any of the BCW&SA budgets. It was not mentioned when the $2,240,738.29 contract with McMahon for the Cross Area Water Project was presented to the Public Works and Purchasing Committee in April, 2008. Mr. Caldwell Pinckney, then chairman of the Water & Sanitation Committee, moved to approve the contract. It was not mentioned when this same contract was presented to the full Council for approval later in April, 2008. However, the Hwy 311 Water Line was included in the contract text, a document that was not made available to Council before or after the vote. The first time the Hwy. 311 Water Line Project became public was when McMahon began putting the pipe in the ground.
When the residents of Hwy. 311 and those in Cross proper received letters from BCW&SA advising them of the mandatory tap-in requirements, there was a thunder of protests. These taxpayers banded together and flooded the Council chamber at the 6/22/09 Regular Council meeting. The main complaint of these taxpayers was that they were never asked if they wanted or needed this water line. The second complaint was that they were being forced to tap into the line. The third complaint was concerning the expense of connecting to the water line. The fourth complaint was the fact that there were so few possible tap-ins that water would have to be wasted by dumping it in the ditches to keep the water in the line drinkable. All agreed this would be a terrible waste of taxpayer money.
BCW&SA had its troops assembled and ready to try to defend its actions but their statements did not always agree with the official County Council minutes. Similarly, Mr. Jennings' and Mr. Miley's statements did not always agree.
Mr. Jennings stated that there were several projects dealing with the Cross Area in getting water to the Cross schools. There was no formal community-wide survey of interest. There were substantial and repeated conversations with County Council. In mid-2000, BCWS sold two very significant bond issues to undertake a number of water and sewer projects. The Council in office at that time was briefed in great detail and understood what projects were going to be constructed, where the lines were going and where the money was coming from. (pg. 21)
Mr. Pinckney's choice of words did not exactly reflect those of a person who had no vested interest in this project. Also, if there are so many people who cannot afford deep wells, ($4000 piped to the house) how will they afford the tap-in fees, the hydrant fee, the cost of running pipe from the road to their houses, and the cost of plumbing their houses to accommodate the increased pressure of public water service, when there are no grants for Hwy. 311?
There are citizens who do not need the water, because they have deep wells. It is good that those citizens have been blessed with the ability to afford those wells, but there are a lot of people that cannot afford a well and desperately need it. (pg. 17)
Council Member Callanan questioned if the Cross Area Water Project was several projects together.
Mr. Miley responded that the Cross Area Water Project is one project, designed and constructed together with multiple roads. Highway 311 was one of the roads the waterline went down. (pg. 6)
Council Member Callanan stated that he was elected to Council in 2007. The list Council Member Callanan had did not show Highway 311 on it. Council Member Callanan questioned if Highway 311 was a major component in the Cross Area Water Project.
Mr. Miley responded that to be correct.
Council Member Callanan questioned why Highway 311 was not on the list.
Mr. Miley responded that he did not know why it was not on the list.
Council Member Callanan questioned if there was an effort to have a waterline from
Holly Hill to Lake Marion.
Mr. Miley responded that to be correct.
Council Member Callanan questioned if that waterline came down from Holly Hill,
reached Highway 176 and touched toward the end of Highway 311.
Mr. Miley responded that to be correct.
Council Member Callanan stated that it would have been more economically feasible to tie Highway 311 into that once it was in place, because it would be financed by grants.
Mr. Miley stated that the grant project, which was moving forward at this time with the Lake Marion Project, is scoped to install a booster pump station at the intersection of Highways 311 and 176. It also included a second feed up Highway 311 to make that connection there. (pg. 22)
Council Member Callanan questioned if the County applied for grants for the Highway 311 project.
Mr. Rogers responded that several requests for grants were submitted. Highway 311 was in part of the overall project. Grants were applied for, but grants were not received.
Council Member Callanan questioned how it is determined who gets funds and who does not?
Mr. Rogers responded that the state would require BCWS to have a project which BCWS designated as a grant applicant. At least 51 percent of the entire project would need to be low to moderate income in order to be competitive for a grant. (CDBG) Every single road within that project would have to be at least 51 percent for that particular road from the grant project. Mr. Rogers continued and stated that a CDBG was not applied for Highway 311.
Council Member Callanan asked why a grant was not applied for that work.
Mr. Rogers responded that three grants had already been secured in Cross, and BCWS had to address other parts of the County.
Well, Mr. Rogers, were grants for Hwy. 311 applied for or not? In fact, of the CDBG awards to BC in the last five years, only two were for Cross, one for the Cross Water Line in the amount of $412,633 and one for the Northern Cross Water Line in the amount of $673,893. If Mr. Roger's explanation of which projects qualify for CDBG assistance, and the Cross Area Water Project is one big project, as Mr. Miley responded to Mr. Callanan's question on page 6, how did some of the roads named in this project end up listed on the CDBG report supplied by COG as receiving grant money? CDBGs are project specific and non transferable. If we were members of COG, we would be checking into where all this grant money is going. And why did Mr. Martin make the following statement?
The original budget for the Cross Area Water Project was $3.8 million. A CDBG grant
for $1.5 million was utilized for completion of the project for a savings of $795,620.
(Water & Sanitation meeting 5/18/09 pg. 6)
If we could be so bold as to ask just one more question, why, when the taxpayers complained about the Hwy 311 water line costing almost $2 ¼ million, did Mr. Miley argue so vigorously that that sum was the cost of the entire Cross Area Water Project?
(Regular Council meeting 6/22/09 pgs. 18 & 19)
Council Member Fish stated that he had a copy of every budget from 2004. In the 2004 budget, Council identified a wish list. Some of the Cross Area was #28, and on that list, Highway 311 appeared. It also appeared in the subsequent year of 2005. At that time, Council Member Fish stated that it was his recollection that it was talked about, as information came out with regard to the Cross Water Project. Highway 311 would be fed when the lines came back down Highway 176 and then onto Highway 311, because it was not economically feasible to place a waterline on Highway 311 until it was time for the Lake Marion Water Project. From budgets 2005 and on, the list was the same except that Highway 311 came off that list. It never appeared again after 2005. Council Member Fish stated that he did not know how Highway 311 got back on the list.
(Water & Sanitation meeting 6/22/09 pg.24)
Chairman Daniel Davis stated that all questions would be answered upon completion of the external audit of BCWS. This project was started in 2003. The project had been engineered and ready long before January 2007 when he took office. The previous Council had approved that project all along the way.
(Water & Sanitation meeting 6/22/09 pg. 24)
Anyone who can read and comprehend the English language will know that the Hwy. 311 Water Project was never approved by Council.
Any person who claims any intellectual integrity will see the Hwy. 311 Water Project for what it is, a behind the barn door political payoff. The County Council minutes are full of contradictions as BCW&SA spokespeople try to justify this expenditure. At least 6 County Councilmen,who were on Council in 2003, clearly indicate they were not aware that the project was under consideration and they would never have voted to approve it.
Early in 2009, several councilmen called for an audit of the Hwy. 311 Water Project. The scope of their inquiry is narrow. They want to know when the Hwy. 311 Water Project was approved. They want to know who approved it. And they want to know where the money came from to pay for it. By some strange coincidence, Mr. Dan Davis ended up on the audit committee. He proceeded to add areas of inquiry to the audit that have absolutely nothing to do with the Hwy. 311 Water Project. All together, now.....”SMOKE SCREEN”.
The audit was originally supposed to be completed by June 2009. Well, in June it was discovered that, purely by accident mind you, somebody had forgotten to send the letter of engagement to the auditor. Ooops, delay. As a result, the audit couldn't be completed until August or September. Then, at the 6/22/09 Council meeting, the Supervisor let it slip that he hoped the audit would be completed by the end of the year. He probably got a complete update on the audit's scheduling during his two hour closed door meeting with the auditor. By the way, the signed letter of engagement lay around the county office building for another month before it went out. Ooops, another delay.
Is there any chance that this audit is so involved and complicated that it may not be completed until after the 2010 primary?
The facts are there in the public records for all to see. No amount of creative explanations, no amount of denials, and no amount of down right lies will change the truth. And, the truth is that the Hwy 311 Water Line Project was never approved by Council. The taxpayers are on the hook for this project in the amount of $2,240,738.29 because the pipes are in the ground. But, the citizens of Berkeley County deserve to know who is responsible for this fraud.
At least it's not like this fraudulent project is unique. GE&P is in the process of gathering documentation on two other BCW&SA water projects that are equally egregious.
UPDATE: GE&P has learned that 28 households have tapped into the Hwy 311 water line. Is it not a coincidence that there are, also, 28 houses in Pinckneyville? Remember, this water line requires a minimum of 400 tap-ins to operate efficiently. Is it another coincidence that a dump timer has been installed on the hydrant at the end of the water line just past Mr. Pinckney's house? You don't suppose BCW&SA plans to dump water in the woods, do you?