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Kershaw County faces $4 million flood clean-up
Vic Carpenter
Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter uses a map to describe which roads and bridges were closed as of Tuesday evening during a report to Kershaw County Council. Carpenter said initial damage estimates for individual homes is about $690,000 with more than $4 million in damages to publically-owned resources, such as roads, bridges, dams and buildings. - photo by Martin L. Cahn

Individual families across Kershaw County suffered nearly $690,000 worth of damage, according to Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter. With Kershaw County’s addition to a U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) individual assistance list, homeowners should receive at least some compensation for their losses.

Meanwhile, the county suffered at least $4 million in damages to public assets and is not yet eligible for any federal reimbursement. Even if Kershaw County is added to this FEMA list, the agency might only cover 75 percent of the costs; Kershaw County would have to come up with $1 million on its own.

Carpenter reported to Kershaw County Council during its meeting Tuesday evening on how the county dealt with the Oct. 2-5 flood and what comes next. He said efforts began even before the first rain fell, but led to transforming council’s chamber into its emergency operations center by Saturday, Oct. 3.

During the next 48 hours, he said, the county received between 13.8 inches and 20 inches of rain, resulting in wide-spread flooding, mostly west of the Wateree River. By Sunday, Oct. 4, the county entered a “crisis stage,” moving to “OpCon 1,” the county’s highest level of readiness -- a “full blown emergency,” Carpenter explained.

At the height of the flooding, Carpenter said, approximately 70 roads closed and two communities -- Hermitage Trailer Park and the Canterbury subdivision -- were evacuated in Kershaw County.

“There were numerous swift-water rescues that were undertaken in the county as well,” Carpenter said. “As the rain subsided Monday (Oct. 5) … we began working quickly to establish damage assessment and begin the recovery efforts. And that’s a crucial thing: we did the damage assessment. It’s important to understand that when a disaster like this moves through, we must quickly understand what the damage was.”

Carpenter said during the next two days, the county evaluated nearly 80 homes for storm-related damage.

“Thirty-six of them received what’s considered major damage, though, fortunately, none of those houses were completely totally destroyed,” Carpenter said.

By Wednesday, Oct. 7, the county began assessing roads, especially those used by school buses. A S.C. Emergency Management Division team came in Oct. 10 to assist with preliminary assessments of damage to public assets.

“They were very quickly able to determine that … at least $4 million of damage was done to public facilities in this county,” Carpenter said. “By public facilities, we mean roads, we mean bridges, we mean water and sewer lines, we mean fire stations -- anything that the public owns ... we will be in recovery for some months in some parts of this county.”

Carpenter said FEMA was in the county Tuesday, working to move officials into a position where they can ask the agency for public reimbursement.

“That’s important, because the $4 million … I mentioned must be spent to repair our roads and bridges. If we qualify for reimbursement, then at least 75 percent of those costs will be eligible for reimbursement,” he said.

Carpenter also said the county has signed a memorandum of understanding with the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) to pick up debris from the side of roads.

A National Guard unit from North Carolina will be in Kershaw County to assist with road repairs, Carpenter said.

“We have hundreds of miles of dirt roads -- approximately 80 percent of those miles were affected by this storm,” he said, with most damage in the county’s southwest quadrant, especially the Swift Creek/Spears Creek and Twenty-Five Mile Creek watersheds. “Unfortunately, because of the pattern of some of the bridges washing out, we have some residents that are severely impacted in getting public services. It’s not going to be easy for us to get a fire truck to them or an ambulance to them, so we’re looking to temporarily repositioning some of our ambulances so we can have them available to citizens if they need them.”

He said some bridges will be out for some time.

“If we’re able to repair them quickly, it’ll probably be six months. If we’re not able to repair them quickly, it could be a year (to a) year and a half before we replace some of those bridges. It’s just the reality of it,” Carpenter said.

Following Carpenter’s report, Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. said the county doesn’t have $4 million extra dollars in its budget for flood-related rebuilding and asked where the money would come from. Carpenter said any funds would come out of county services, and the county would have to spend money first before being reimbursed.

Councilman Jimmy Jones asked how long it might take to repair Pine Grove Road.

“The state DOT will make their determination,” Carpenter replied. “We will certainly share that that’s a critical road. It’s one of those roads where by closing it off, you shut off a huge portion of the county that relies on that road.”

At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, there was some question as to whether Carpenter would even be allowed to give his report. Tuesday’s agenda originally included a presentation on Capella Healthcare’s takeover of KershawHealth. Chairman Julian Burns said he had been asked to remove it from the agenda. Tucker made a motion to officially remove the KershawHealth presentation and to add Carpenter’s presentation on the flood in its place.

That led Jones to question whether the presentation could legally be added to the agenda, suggesting it be part of Carpenter’s regular administrator’s briefing. Burns said the flood presentation would take at least 15 minutes and include photographs and maps. Jones asked County Attorney Ken DuBose for a legal opinion on the matter; DuBose said council could leave the KershawHealth presentation on the agenda and simply have Carpenter speak on the flood instead.

“That is not correct,” Jones said of having something added to the agenda which had not been advertised to the public. “I don’t agree with that Mr. DuBose.”

DuBose then said council would need to make two findings determining there are exigent (pressing or demanding) circumstances and deadline considerations exist in terms of what council and the public needed to know prior to council’s next meeting.

“We had a hell of a rainstorm,” Burns said, “and FEMA is in town this week and I’d like to make sure council understands FEMA will be making a judgment on priorities and money to be spent this council needs to know about … what bridges and roads need to be repaired.”

DuBose agreed Burns’ explanation met the criteria needed to add Carpenter’s presentation to the agenda. Jones, however, asked Carpenter whether his presentation fell under those categories. Carpenter said he felt neither council nor the public could wait two weeks to hear the presentation. 

Although his answer appeared to satisfy Jones, he still voted against amending this portion of the agenda.

Council also voted to amend the agenda by removing consideration of an appointment to the KershawHealth Board of Trustees. The nine-member board has operated since February with a vacancy created by the resignation of Paul Napper. This created some difficulty Monday night when it took five rounds of voting to clearly elect Trustee Wayne Tidwell as the board’s new vice chairman (see front page, “Ogburn, Tidwell to lead KershawHealth board”).

In mid-September, the hospital forwarded its nomination of Shannon West to fill Napper’s seat. It did so noting only West and one other candidate -- who did not qualify since they didn’t live Napper’s township -- submitted their names for consideration.

Burns said some council members feel they should have “the entire slate” before voting on one seat when there are two others which are technically open. Outgoing Vice Chair Dr. Tallulah Holmstrom and Bobby Jones’ terms expired Sept. 30, but will continue serving until such time as council replaces them.

Councilman Tom Gardner said it would place West at a disadvantage if appointed now.

“(With) the plan of action with Capella, it would throw them into a situation that they’re unfamiliar with,” Gardner said. “I don’t think they ought to be brought into that, as well as the current KershawHealth board would be taking on somebody they would have to follow up on with all the information. And, until that process is finished, I think we ought to hold off on appointing any new hospital board members.”

In other KershawHealth-related business, council voted unanimously to pass second reading of an ordinance setting up a fee in lieu of taxes agreement with Kershaw Hospital LLC (KHLLC). The limited liability corporation was set up by Capella Healthcare and MUSC Health to lease/purchase most of the hospital’s assets and operations. KHLLC is agreeing to make annual $925,000 payments from 2016 through 2022. The fees would increase by 1 percent through the remainder of the 40-year-lease.

(More on this meeting will be reported Tuesday.)