November 25, 2015

SC environmental chief calls for annual inspections of private dams

Cary's Lake failed early in the floods that hit the Columbia suburb Arcadia Lakes (File)

Cary’s Lake failed early in the floods that hit the Columbia suburb Arcadia Lakes (File)

South Carolina’s top environmental regulator says last month’s record flooding has shown South Carolina needs to put more emphasis on dam inspections and safety.

Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Heigel told a legislative committee Wednesday that she would like her agency to inspect “C1” highest-hazard dams once per year instead of the current once every two years. However, she said that would likely require DHEC lacks to double employees in its dam safety division.

“We have been challenged to meet that inspection schedule because of staffing over the years,” she told the House budget committee. The agency brought on contractors and engineers from South Carolina Electric and Gas to inspect hundreds of dams across the Midlands last month, Heigel said.

During the record rainfall and flooding in early October, 36 dams failed from the unprecedented amounts of water. Seven of those dams were “C1,” meaning failure could cause significant property damage and potential loss of life downstream. Another 16 breached dams were “C2,” meaning their failure could cause property damage.

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Voters choose commercial realtor to be Charleston’s first new mayor in 40 years

John Tecklenburg (Image: John Tecklenburg For Mayor)

John Tecklenburg (Image: John Tecklenburg For Mayor)

Charleston voters decided to go with a commercial real estate businessman as their first new mayor in 40 years during a runoff election Tuesday.

John Tecklenburg took more than 57 percent of the vote to state legislator Leon Stavrinakis’ 43 percent by the time Stavrinakis called his rival to concede around 8:45 p.m. The businessman will now succeed longtime incumbent Joe Riley, who announced this term will be his last in office.

The two had only been separated by a few hundred votes after the general election two weeks ago… but Tecklenburg seemed to win over more voters who had committed to other candidates and grew his lead to roughly 3,000 votes by the end of the night. It may have helped that third-place finisher Ginny Deerin endorsed his candidacy shortly after the Nov. 3 election.

“I’m not a career politician,” Tecklenburg told supporters after his victory, before correcting himself. “I guess by today’s election, I become a political figure.”

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Gov. Haley requests no Syrian refugees in SC, open to others

Gov. Nikki Haley (File)

Gov. Nikki Haley (File)

The attacks in Paris last week have sparked nervousness from South Carolina leaders about Mideast refugees who have been resettling in South Carolina.

Gov. Nikki Haley’s office sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday asking that no Syrian refugees be included in two ongoing resettlement programs that cover South Carolina. The governor cited concerns about “gaps in the available intelligence for those leaving Syria” for her position.

“Until I can be assured that all potential refugees from Syria have no ties to terrorist organizations, I am requesting that the State Department not resettle any Syrian refugees in South Carolina,” the letter stated.

Earlier Monday, the governor told reporters she supports the program in general. The daughter of Indian immigrants said two interpreters who once worked with her husband Michael during his 2013 National Guard deployment had used the program.

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SC committee hears recommendations on motorcycle passenger safety

The South Carolina’s legislative Study Committee of Motorcycle Usage and Safety says it will be making a recommendation on passenger safety this upcoming session.

The committee does not write or pass legislation on motorcycle safety. Instead it hears testimony and will make recommendations to state lawmakers on possible changes when lawmakers return to session in January.

Jeff Allen, an Irmo fire marshal who serves on the Children’s Trust of South Carolina board of trustees, said some states have a requirement on passenger height. “Whoever the passenger is on the back of the motorcycle, their feet must reach both pegs,” Allen told the committee Friday. He went on to explain that — regardless of age — the passenger must be tall enough that their feet must reach the factory-installed foot rests on the back of the bike. He noted that is similar to a height requirement for certain amusement park rides.

The one exception would be if the motorcycle had a sidecar.

Committee members had been looking at a current bill that would require child restraints for motorcycles. The idea was scrapped when Allen told them that he did not know of any state that require them. He also told the committee that he could not explain what a child restraint for a motorcycle would look like.

The study committee plans to issue its report to lawmakers in mid-December. In addition to the height requirements, members also expressed support for a bill that would create a “lemon law” for motorcycles, similar to an existing state law that requires auto dealers to replace or refund any defective vehicles they sell.



DHEC issues new fines to clinics over improper disposal of abortion fetuses

DHEC Director Catherine Heigel (Image: SCETV)

DHEC Director Catherine Heigel (Image: SCETV)

South Carolina’s public health agency is warning the three abortion clinics in the state that all face additional fines for years of improperly disposing of aborted fetuses.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) sent consent orders to clinics in Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville last week for sterilizing the fetal matter and sending it to landfills, instead of incinerating it as state regulations require. Director Catherine Heigel told a House committee Thursday the waste disposal company Stericycle also face fines for its role.

These fines stem from violations found during inspections in September. Gov. Nikki Haley had requested the look-ins in September after undercover videos from an anti-abortion group into Planned Parenthood showed executives talking about the potential sale of fetal tissue from aborted fetuses that would be used for research purposes. The organization has repeatedly condemned the videos as misleading and say they do not show any evidence of wrongdoing.

The September inspections were DHEC’s first conducted into South Carolina abortion clinics since the agency made changes after a legislative audit found weaknesses in previous years’ reports. Heigel said the changes included better recordkeeping and having a registered nurse involved in the inspections. [Read more…]