May 23, 2015

Ellenton Heritage Trail retraces town dismantled to build hydrogen bombs

SRS Heritage Foundation.

SRS Heritage Foundation.

The residents of Ellenton were told that there was a big announcement coming to the town in 1950, but the rumor was that it was a new factory relocating to the community.

What they instead received was a notice that the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was purchasing their land through eminent domain to make plutonium for hydrogen bombs. About 6,000 people were uprooted to build what is now the 310 square mile-Savannah River Site (SRS).

65 years later, Energy Department officials have opened the Ellenton Heritage Trail, which crosses the site of the former town. Visitors will now be able to take a walking tour and learn about what the town was like before the displacement. The trail is located just west of Highway 125, about nine miles southeast of the town of Jackson.

SRS Heritage Foundation executive director Walt Joseph told South Carolina Radio Network that the heritage trail has been a dream for almost a decade, along with the SRS Museum located in downtown Aiken. “We are involved in protecting and presenting to the public all aspects of the Savannah River Site.” Joseph said.

Now the foundation will be able to host public tours along the trail, something that Joseph hopes will begin as early as next month.

“This is a first for people to be able to walk through and talk about what was there in this small, agricultural community and how it was all displaced by the coming of the Savannah River Site.” Joseph said.

The trail covers about 1.5 miles of original streets within the downtown area of Ellenton. The former town site occupies about six acres.


Charleston School of Law will accept new class, but cuts some faculty

File photo


The struggling Charleston School of Law (CSOL) says it will be able to accept new students for this upcoming school year, easing fears that the school could soon close.

However, the private law school’s owners said they will still make cuts: laying off at least seven faculty members and consolidating several facilities in cost-trimming moves.

“It’s been hard to lose these members of our staff and faculty, but it’s been a necessary business move to ensure that the size of the school is appropriate for the number of students we have,” school spokesman Andy Brack said in a written statement. “Our existing staff will be able to meet students’ needs as a number of functions have been consolidated.”

Speculation into the school’s future flared up two weeks ago after the college’s two remaining owners issued a statement May 5 explaining that they “cannot in good faith enroll another class” when the school is spending more money than is coming in. Retired judges George Kosko and Robert Carr also said in the statement that they cannot assure students that they will be able to use federal student loans for their full three years or that the school will even be able to maintain its license and stay open during that time.

24 staff members and four faculty members have left the school through buyouts, separation packages, and attrition since May 2014, school leader say.

CSOL plans to to consolidate several facilities into its Mary Street location and another building on Meeting Street.

Carr and Kosko had spent more than a year attempting to sell CSOL to InfiLaw System, which owns three other for-profit law schools around the country. The sale was strongly criticized by alumni and faculty, who claim InfiLaw is a diploma mill with lower academic standards. The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education came down against the acquisition last year, while the American Bar Association allowed it.


Senate appears to support new DHEC nominee

DHEC nominee Catherine Heigel speaks to senators Thursday (Image: SCETV)

DHEC nominee Catherine Heigel speaks to senators Thursday (Image: SCETV)

Senators on a key committee unanimously forwarded the nomination of the woman tapped to be South Carolina’s next environmental chief, a marked contrast to the last two nominees for that position.

The Senate Medical Affairs Committee on Thursday advanced the nomination of former Duke Energy executive Catherine Heigel as the next director of the Department of Health and Environmental Control. Heigel was chosen by the agency’s board last month (the board members are appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley) to lead the massive state agency responsible for regulating public health and environmental issues.

“As the director of DHEC, I’m going to be committed to promoting four key principles,” she told the committee Thursday. “Transparency, efficiency, fairness, and certainty. I’ve been in the business community. I certainly understand what regulatory uncertainty does to business and how it works against efficiency.”

Heigel currently works as a general counsel for the accounting firm Elliott Davis Decosimo in Greenville. Prior to that she spent 11 years at Duke Energy, including serving as president of the company’s South Carolina operations from 2010 until 2012. She also serves on the state board of the conservation group Nature Conservancy and on the board of state-owned utility Santee Cooper.

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Myrtle Beach prepares for Bikefest, one year after shootings

Myrtle Beach leaders posted this map on the city's website noting the restrictive loop traffic must follow after 10:00 p.m. each night (Image: City of Myrtle Beach)

Myrtle Beach leaders posted this map on the city’s website noting the restrictive loop traffic must follow after 10:00 p.m. each night (Image: City of Myrtle Beach)

Myrtle Beach Police are bringing in officers from across the Southeast as they prepare for Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest this weekend.

City officials are beefing up their presence this year with more than 500 law enforcement officers, according to a city spokesman, trying to bring calm after last year’s Bikefest was marred by eight shootings that killed three people. The shootings led to an outcry among Grand Strand residents and worries about racial acrimony among organizers of the predominantly African-American event.

The outcry even led Gov. Nikki Haley to join the calls for the event to end, which organizers refused, saying the criminal acts were being done by a small minority of the event’s attendees.

Estimates are rough, but upwards of 40,000 bikers have been reported at the rally in previous years. Tens of thousands more visitors not riding bikes are also expected. 

City spokesman Mark Kruea said several changes are being made this year for the event that runs from Friday to Sunday. The most visible will be the new traffic realignments. The city’s most famous route Ocean Boulevard will be one-way for the entire weekend, starting just after midnight Friday. Traffic will only be allowed to head southbound from 29th Avenue North to Kings Highway. The northbound lane will be reserved for emergency vehicles.

“That’s so it doesn’t take an hour-and-half to respond to an ambulance call,” Kruea said, referencing large traffic jams that have delayed emergency responders in previous years.

Another major change will occur from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. every night Friday-Sunday, when all traffic using Ocean Boulevard will be restricted to a 23-mile loop through the city. During the day, traffic will be able to enter and exit at any traffic light along Ocean Boulevard. But that will change after 10:00, when barricades will be placed at each intersection to keep traffic flowing on the north-south thoroughfare.

Myrtle Beach Police Lt. Joey Crosby said backups along Ocean Boulevard had caused headaches in the past, as visitors would then congregate in the road and make the problem worse. The fight that led to the triple homicide at the Bermuda Sands Motel last year started when rival groups gathered in the middle of Ocean Boulevard late at night, investigators say. That stretch of road is covered by the loop.

“If you have a large event, one of the most important things is to keep the crowd moving,” Crosby told South Carolina Radio Network. “The objective of the loop is to keep traffic moving along Ocean Boulevard, so that when we have a large crowd in a small place we try to reduce that violence from occurring.”

The NAACP said it will be keeping an eye on how law enforcement treat visitors at the predominantly African-American event, noting that the loop was not employed at the predominantly-white Harley-Davidson rally one week earlier. During a press conference Thursday, the organization’s associate general counsel Anson Asaka told reporters that bikers had gradually built a positive relationship with police.

“There’s been significant improvement here in Myrtle Beach… We are concerned about the new law enforcement measures that are being taken,” he said, per the Myrtle Beach Sun-News. “We are concerned that they may possibly be a step backwards.”

Bill expanding mental health courts across South Carolina headed to governor

Statehouse3A bill headed to Governor Nikki Haley’s bill would provide the means for local court to expand mental health courts across South Carolina.

Mental health courts divert mentally-ill offenders away from the criminal justice system and into treatment programs, much as drug courts do for drug offenders. Currently, three mental health courts operate in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston. Federal grants that operated the courts have dried up, but local governments have taken over funding.

National Alliance on Mental Illness executive director for South Carolina Bill Lindsey of the told South Carolina Radio Network the bill would clear the way for mental health courts to start up across the state. “It allows a template for the other solicitor districts in the state to be able to go forward with a similar program,” he said.

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