By Bill Rauch
A version of the notorious public company “quarter-to-quarter mentality” exists in local government. It goes something like this: “If the results cannot be seen by the next time I have to run, then I don’t really care about it.”
It is the prevalence of this status quo-preserving mindset among elected officials that accounts for why long-term planning is left to staffers and relegated almost always to the back burner.
When the staff report finally gets presented to the elected officials, they nod cheerfully saying, “That’s very good work and good to know,” and then they groan: “But gosh doing that would be so expensive! Why, we had no idea. Where would we get all that money?”
At that the plan is put on the shelf to be admired occasionally when its name gets called.
Yes, there are exceptions. Mostly exceptions occur when officials learn a tsunami is coming.
A tsunami is coming.
It is headed for U.S. 278 between S.C. 170 and I-95.
Because a decade ago — just before the hard times — the City of Hardeeville annexed virtually all the timberland tracts that lay along that corridor, and with developers negotiated development agreements for these lands that, when they are built out will, according to Hardeeville City Manager Michael J. Czymbor’s estimate last week, put about 60,000 new residential units into communities that will feed into U.S. 278 along that corridor. Not to mention the shopping centers. That’s several Sun Cities. That’s a couple of Blufftons on steroids. Latitudes Margaritaville is just the flashy opening act.
Bringing additional seriousness to the matter is that the Jasper Port’s leadership says their facility will provide 900 construction jobs between now and when it opens 10-12 years from now, and a million jobs by 2040. That’s a lot of containers going somewhere … on roads that are not even dirt roads today.
All these big numbers have gotten the attention of the governments, most notably Hardeeville, Bluffton and Beaufort County. But Hilton Head Island, Ridgeland and Jasper County are also watching.
In a commendable effort to work toward regional solutions, Hardeeville’s mayor, Harry Williams, has pulled representatives of all these governments into a group called SoLoCo for the Southern Lowcountry Regional Board. In this, he says, he has been ably assisted by Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka and Beaufort County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville.
The group has begun sharing data and ideas on population projections, stormwater management, estuary preservation, venue shopping, vocational education, workforce housing and water and sewer needs. They say they are laying off transportation issues for the time being because another more formal group, the Lowcountry Area Transportation Study that works through the Lowcountry Council of Governments, is supposed to be working on those needs.
All this will have a familiar ring to longtime residents. It is reminiscent of the years after Beaufort County green-lighted Sun City Hilton Head. In those days plans for schools, roads and drainage improvements were initiated that regular readers of this column know have now cost taxpayers about a half billion dollars to build.
Hilton Head: This is what your success looks like.
Sun City Hilton Head — located of course many miles from Hilton Head Island — was a summer afternoon boomer compared to the tsunami that’s blowing down Hardeeville’s pipeline.
How will Hilton Head Island residents get to I-95? Hardeeville has plans to improve the interchanges at miles 5 and 8 on I-95, but there are no plans to improve — much less pay for — the corridors to those interchanges. Hilton Head’s preferred route, Exit 3, to be reached by an extension of the Bluffton Parkway, “has no viable legs at this time,” Hilton Head Town Manager Steve Riley said last week.
How will we keep the Okatie, the May River and Calibogue Sound vibrant? Who will build all this public and private infrastructure, and where will their children be educated?
SoLoCo’s planning efforts are, as is all-too-often the case in government, crisis management. And, unfortunately for the taxpayers, we won’t have the luxury of putting their plans on the shelf.
Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.