LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

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By Lolita Huckaby

Lest we forget, State Legislature returns to session

COLUMBIA – It’s back to business in the state’s capital as well this week as the legislators head back to work.

Observers are predicting top issues on the legislative agenda will be COVID relief, abortion laws, hate crimes, the education budget to include – or not to include – teachers’ salaries and redistricting as a result of the 2020 census figures.

Our state Sen. Tom Davis, R, has made it clear he hopes to see the medical marijuana bill pass and a lot of his supporters who want legal access to the medical relief, hope so as well.

If all those meaty subjects aren’t enough, the last time the Legislature gathered for an organizational meeting last month, three members came home and tested positive for the virus.

AND, the FBI has issued a warning that state capitals around the country may be targets of armed protests as seen in Washington, D.C., last week.

Say it isn’t so, Go-Co

And now the bad news; Golden Corral’s buffet is no more.

Earlier last year, buffet-lovers lost the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday’s. This year starts off without Go-Co.

Corporate officials confirmed this week the restaurant, which opened in 1996, has closed, another victim of COVID-19.

Last Spring marked the closure of a number of restaurants due to the COVID virus. The Golden Corral in Bluffton closed in April, making way for a luxury spa. But ours on Robert Smalls Parkway remained open … until January.

The N.C.-based establishment was home to so many business meetings, informal breakfast gatherings and the first chocolate fountain in the area. The list goes on.

Go-Co…you will be missed.

To go virtual, or not to go virtual, that is the question

BEAUFORT – As COVID cases continue to rise, breaking new records here in Beaufort as well as nationwide, Beaufort County’s 25,000 public school students and their teachers bravely returned to the classroom last week with masks and sanatizing wipes in hand.

The school board members themselves met in person – socially distanced, of course – last week to swear in two new members … but then returned to their zoom meeting format to conduct business which included directing students back into the classrooms.

As the board was reaffirming its’ decision to go all-virtual, the district has reported more than 400 COVID cases among staff and students. The cases represent less than 3 percent of the district’s population and less than the county numbers total.

Since the county public school students returned in October, students had an option of online instruction or a “hybrid” schedule, which included a mix of in-person and on-line instruction.

The majority of the board did agree to study the possibility of a $1,000 “hazard pay” for teachers. And they asked Gov. Henry McMaster to prioritize COVID vaccines for school employees. The current vaccination schedule puts educators in Phase 1B, which has not yet started.

Superintendent Frank Rodriguez, who took the helm of the county public schools in July 2019, went into the classroom himself, teaching a history class at Battery Creek High School. Some teachers concerned about infection opted to take time off rather than return to the classroom, reducing the availability of substitute teachers.

Area private schools – Beaufort Academ with approximately 250 students and Bridges with 664 students – both started their classes in August in-person with masks required.

Beaufort County is not alone in this fight. Horry County, with 30,000 students, is still teaching online but a decision to do otherwise may happen this week.

And in Richland One, the fight to return to the classroom has been carried into the debate arena by state legislators representing the Columbia district, arguing state elected officials should stay out of a local decision.

Update on those trees

BEAUFORT – City of Beaufort officials keep getting complaints and Dominion Energy tree contractors keep cutting. It’s a circle Mayor Stephen Murray says has him frustrated.

In his first month of office, Murray has had at least two meetings with representatives of the utility company to discuss their pruning techniques but feels like he’s made little progress.

“I understand citizens’ concerns. I love our trees, too,” he said in a conversation over the weekend. “Beaufort is a designated Tree City, USA, and I don’t think Dominion understands their importance to us.”

Since the city no longer has a certified arborist on staff, they’ve contracted with one. But what have been described by some as “inappropriate cuts” are still happening, ANSI-A300 compliance or not.

A press release from the city on the subject says as of last week, 40 percent of the cutting has been done. That means 60 percent more to go.

A lot of social media comment has been made about putting the wires underground, to protect from power outages during storms. SCE&G, the former area utility company, worked with the city to put the lines underground as part of the Boundary Street Redevelopment Project. 

The bill for that improvement was approximately $4 million, with, ironically, utility users paying for part of that. Look at your bill – a 2 percent charge to pay for Boundary Street alone.

Maybe the S.C. Public Service Commission which is currently considering a 7.7 percent rate increase for Dominion (estimated to cost the average residential customer $9.68 more a month), could help.

And for further review …

LADY’S ISLAND – Road and sidewalk improvements are back on the front burner of the county planning staff’s project list with a series of meetings to remind the public what the 1-cent transportation sales tax is going to pay for.

The online meetings will be scheduled from Jan. 18 through Feb. 14 with an online “town hall” session to be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 21. All meetings will be accessible on the County Channel or Beaufort County’s Facebook page.

The projects to be funded were proposed during the 2017 Lady’s Island Corridor Study and were part of the marketing that help the sales tax referendum pass in 2018.

The projects are also outlined on the county website, https://beaufortcountypenny.com.

Lolita Huckaby Watson is a community volunteer and former reporter/editor with The Beaufort Gazette, The Savannah Morning News, Bluffton Today and Beaufort Today. She can be reached at bftbay@gmail.com.