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Camden to improve I-20, industrial park infrastructure

Posted: August 30, 2012 7:03 p.m.
Updated: August 31, 2012 5:00 a.m.

After years of being on the back burner, the city of Camden is ready to bank on the future of another of town: the I-20/U.S. 521 interchange area and two nearby industrial parks.

Despite continued economic doldrums, Camden City Council is optimistic enough that it appears ready to authorize perhaps as much as $2.03 million to improve water and sewer lines and pump stations to entice industries and smaller businesses to come here.

The project, if ultimately approved by council, would work in three phases: improvements to the “Exxon” pump station near I-20 on South Broad Street (U.S. 521); a portion of the city’s sewer system along Black River Road; and looping a water line, also along Black River Road, to a water tank at Steeplechase Industrial Park.

Council discussed the proposed project -- which would tie in to the construction of Camden’s new wastewater treatment plant -- during its work session Tuesday afternoon. Councilwoman Alfred Mae Drakeford was absent.

City Manager Kevin Bronson said the idea for refocusing on I-20, and the Steeplechase and Governor’s Hill industrial parks grew out of council’s 2012 strategic plan, including council’s vision and mission statements.

The vision statement declares that the city will be a “community where people and businesses thrive.” The mission statement on how to achieve that vision puts forward that the city will provide “the infrastructure and leadership necessary for responsible growth.”

“Staff has talked before about increasing infrastructure capacity to undeveloped areas and the business parks,” Bronson said. “We need to be ready in those parks because when businesses begin looking, that infrastructure needs to be in place. We’re much more likely to get it (business) if it’s there.”

Bronson said that as the city increases capacity, its ability to serve those areas will increase beyond what it can now. Staff  has determined, he said, that the Exxon pump station should be the first priority.

“It is near capacity while serving businesses located near I-20 and the Fox Run apartments; the expansion is shovel ready,” he said.

According to Bronson, the station’s pumps were updated some time ago, which “did buy some time” before it would be past capacity. Even the “loss” of a third potential hotel near the interstate may have turned out to be a good thing, he said.

“A hotel was going to come, but didn’t. Fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, it gave us more time to improve,” Bronson said.

Right now, the Exxon pump station is operating at 194 gallons per minute (gpm). Bronson said staff has determined the station’s optimal rate should be 514 gpm.

“That would serve the area for 30 years, depending on what develops,” he said.

The Exxon pump station’s current service boundary encompasses an area that runs south to north between I-20 and Pine Tree Creek, and from east to west from behind the Waffle House and Herndon Inc. to Beaufort Road. Several businesses near the interstate, as well as Central Carolina Technical College’s QuickJobs site. This part of the project would also install controls to optimize synchronization between the Exxon and Beaufort Road pump stations, Bronson said.

“We need to do the synchronization between the two stations so they operate optimally -- when one is pumping, the other is holding back so we’re not overburdening the system,” he said.

The city solicited bids for the project earlier this summer in order to bring cost estimates to council. Of the three bids, staff is recommending MJL Inc. of Moncks Corner with construction costs of $390,350. Another $38,500 would be spent to supply electricity via a new underground, along with a $2,740 expense for SCANA to install a natural gas line for the station’s generator, bringing the total cost of the first phase to $431,590.

Bronson said one way staff is proposing to pay for the Exxon pump station upgrade is by taking money away from water line, sewer line and electric department expansions. That would cover $216,590 of the cost. To make up the difference, Bronson suggested tapping a $215,000 residual left over a State Revolving Fund loan the city took out to fund pre-loading site work at the new treatment plant.

“This is a way to pay for this. This is the question I have for you,” Bronson said. “We received the bids, but we can decide not to award the bid or, at the next meeting, we can have it as an (agenda) item.”

Bronson said staff has yet to determine if the Beaufort Road station needs expansion, but that “engineering modeling” was underway. He said that station is connected to a pump station near Haier and a Kershaw County pump station.

“That (modeling) result will determine whatever enhancement we need to make to add capacity for the industrial parks,” Bronson said.

He characterized the Exxon and Beaufort road phases as “an immediate need for attention” because businesses are trying to take advantage of “sweet spots” they find to locate.

“The shell building at Steeplechase is getting a good bit of attention,” Bronson said.

The county built the unoccupied 75,000-square-foot shell building in 2007 for $400,000, including funds from Progress Energy, in order to attract new business to the county.

Next, Bronson said, would be the proposed water line loop, something he said had “been in the works for years.”

“It’s been shovel ready since March 2009,” he said.

The line would run from S.C. 34 (Bishopville Highway) down Precipice Road to Black River Road, and would be the most costly portion of the project at a 2009 estimate of $1.6 million. The line would be a “redundant” loop and not interfere with existing Cassatt Water lines in the area, Bronson said.

He said no current funding source for constructing the water line loop has been identified, but suggested the city could attempt to obtain either U.S. Economic Development Administration or U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Bronson explained that Kershaw County received an as yet untapped $250,000 earmark several years ago for a water line connecting Steeplechase and Governor’s Hill. Even if the county were to decide to move forward with that project, he said, the city still needs to install the redundant line.

“That could be why it’s on hold,” Bronson said -- that the county has been waiting on the city’s project. “We’re looking at this all together, to be able to serve those areas. It all has to be looked at together, but that doesn’t mean we have to do all the funding now.”

Councilman Willard Polk noted that council and staff had discussed the entire project about a year ago.

“I thought we’d already identified this as priority No. 1,” Polk said.

Bronson said that was his recollection as well, but waited to come forward until all the bids were “online.” He said the Exxon pump station is “ready to go, paid for” and permitted by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

“In my mind, it’s critical to the I-20 area and the industrial parks to have it in place so that when those industrial parks develop -- and I believe they will -- we’ll be ready,” Bronson said.

Asst. City Manager Mel Pearson said the $215,000 revolving fund residual was tax free and, as such, can only be used under certain restrictions and time frame. That time limit expires in January, but the money can be used for the pump station upgrade, Pearson said. If the city does not use the money by January, it may have to refund some of the never-charged interest on the loan.

“It seems like the answer’s pretty clear to me,” Polk said, indicating council’s preference to move forward.

Polk did not agree, however, with another matter that council met for a “second” work session after its 6:30 p.m. regular meeting so that members could have a chance to discuss other business. Councilman Walter Long, noting that he had missed a work session one month ago, said he wanted revisit the idea of conducting community services in conjunction with council’s strategic planning.

“This is something very important to our community -- to engage our citizens so that we can have solid public input,” Long said. “When we took the Rock Hill trip, if it wasn’t the component, it was certainly a very strategic way for them to gather input. I think it’s something we should direct staff to find a way to fund, whether from the capital contingency fund or find a way to scrap the money together.”

In response, Bronson announced that the city will experience enough savings from the lease purchase of 800 MHz compliant emergency radios to cover most of the survey expense.

“We will know in September how much savings … it’s still not something you budgeted for, but rather than tap the contingency fund, it’s an option,” Bronson said.

At the July work session, members had shied away from using contingency funds and decided to hold off on the surveys until the 2014 fiscal year after next July.

Polk said he concurred that the survey is essential, but that staff shouldn’t move forward without more planning.

“We should put this in our budget as an actual line item to give staff enough time,” Polk said.

Councilman Pat Partin asked how long it would take to implement the survey. Bronson said the city would have to work with one of two potential firms now in order to conduct surveys, preferably sometime after the November election.

“The firms suggested we do it after the election so that they don’t run into ‘poll fatigue,’” Bronson said, adding that the city would have to move quickly. “I would be on my heels if you tell me tonight to go forward.”

Partin asked that staff let council know at its next work session whether the surveys could be crafted in time. Long asked if the strategic planning session could be pushed back. Bronson said that could be done, but that move council’s time table to work on the next fiscal year’s budget.

“Kevin needs to know if we want to outlay $10,000 to $15,000,” Mayor Jeffrey Graham said. “I want to move forward. I wanted to do the survey the first time. I think you’re going to get good ideas. This is good stuff you’re going to get out of those meetings. I don’t think it stops here; I think it starts with the survey.”

Graham even suggested revisiting the city’s 2008 vision plan by conducting community surveys.

Polk, however, continued to say the city should wait.

“If we go forward with this -- again, I get back to the timing of it -- when you and your staff and the firms and their staff are bumping up against a general election, people are getting survey tired,” Polk said. “You’ll be facing very tight deadlines.”

The mayor said Bronson should “ask the experts” and find out if the surveys would be feasible.

Polk also expressed displeasure with how the city’s new branding campaign, “Grab Life,” was crafted. Following a presentation by City Economic Development Director Wade Luther, Polk said while he had no comment on the slogan, he thought the city had “missed an opportunity.”

“Not to diminish the committee folk, but I didn’t see anyone from the historical community, no one from the African-American community -- nobody from that segment of our community,” Polk said. “It appears this is a done deal. Council has had no opportunity to weigh in on it except for budget funding. Consequently, council has no ‘buy-in’ into it. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the way I see it.”

Partin disagreed.

“I was here when the original banners were put up. They were done by the (Kershaw County) Chamber of Commerce. I don’t think we’ve missed anything here,” he said. “We started out in 2010 saying we needed to come up with how to promote Camden.”

Partin said what concerned him instead was comments objecting to the use of the city’s hospitality tax.

“What I hear is it should be used to promote restaurants and historic people as an ‘add on’ to their advertising budget. I don’t think public dollars, which is what the hospitality tax is, should be used to promote private enterprise. I think what we need to do is promote our town, which is what this does. That’s why I’m excited about it,” Partin said of the new branding campaign.

Luther said the city will install 97 banners with different tag lines -- “Grab Life by the Reins,” “Grab Life by the Traditions” and “Grab Life by the Notes” -- targeting specific areas of the city. Other banners simply proclaiming “Grab Life” will be installed at major intersections.

Long said he believes, and is hearing, that the campaign is a “very positive thing” and a “great representation of the city.” He suggested council could adopt the campaign by resolution “so people will know where we stand.”

“I agree with Councilman Long that council take action on the matter,” Polk said. “We had a slogan -- ‘History, Horses and Hospitality’ -- and now we have a new one.”

Graham said the old slogan will be still be represented through pictures on the banners depicting various sites in Camden.

“This is a great opportunity for us. We’ve had votes,” Graham said, referring to the campaign’s inclusion in the current budget. “If there’s council members with concerns about this, then they need to pay attention to the budget. This is a great opportunity for Camden to grab life -- we have a lot to proud of. I hope the community will grab life by the reins.”

Long concurred, he had the mayor agreeing that a resolution could be taken up at council’s next meeting.

“History, Horses, Hospitality… we don’t necessarily need to abandon that phrase, but we needed something that was a little fresher than that, and I think this will still reflect that in what we say and what we do.”

In other business during the work session, council:

• Discussed a response from URS Corporation to a request for proposal to conduct hardscape projects connected to the South Rutledge parking lot, Haigler Lane and Arthur Alley, Commerce Alley and gateway enhancements at the entrances to the city on U.S. 1 and U.S. 521.

• Discussed an events partnership with the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County for four events. Long and Graham both suggested additional events, and Bronson indicated more may take place depending on the cost.

• Received a report from Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd’s office concerning targeted traffic enforcement on Broad Street and Springdale Drive. Bronson reported that the city issued 113 traffic violations in the targeted areas since July 13, and Floyd later said that a partially obscured 25 mph sign on Broad Street has been moved to be alert drivers to the change in speed.

• Went over a list of grants going back to 2008. Bronson announced that Sonia Canzater has left her position as grant writer to pursue a law degree and that the city hopes to hire a replacement during the next month;

• Discussed proposed design guidelines revision in conjunction with a proposal to create a board of architectural review.

• Received advise from City Attorney Charles Cushman not to change its procedures concerning meeting agendas, but -- in the wake of a S.C. Supreme Court decision -- to be careful not to make substantive changes to its agendas during meetings.

During the regular meeting, Cushman also explained why he had council vote to annex a series of rights of way across the city.

“When I began doing annexations in 1987, and for many years thereafter, the methodology was to notify the S.C. Department of Transportation of the fact that we had adopted an ordinance adopting a piece of property,” Cushman said. “It was not until we annexed the new Camden Middle School on Hasty Road that I discovered their methodology had changed; we have to get permission.”

Tuesday’s vote included the first of what Cushman said would likely be two or three sets of rights of way annexations to rectify the discrepancy.

Also Tuesday, council:

• council voted, 3-0, with Graham recusing himself, to adopt final general development zoning for the proposed Chick-fil-A site on West DeKalb Street;

• voted 4-0 to amend the city’s ordinance governing affordable housing to allow for “density bonuses” for developers under certain circumstances -- Bronson said the ordinance is being amended now in order to be in compliance with a U.S. Department of Commerce grant assisting with infrastructure improvements in a moderate income neighborhood;

• unanimously voted (4-0) to allow for alcohol consumption during the Carolina Motorsports Park’s upcoming LeMons parade; and

• voted unanimously (4-0) to reappoint Laurie Parks, a candidate for city council, to the Camden Historic Landmarks Commission.

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