July 31, 2014

AAA: Number of substandard bridges declining, slightly, in SC

SCDOT says construction crews are currently working to replace this one-lane truss bridge near the town of Enoree. Work will finish in July 2015.

SCDOT says construction crews are currently working to replace this one-lane truss bridge near the town of Enoree. Work will finish in July 2015.

A new report found that slightly fewer of South Carolina’s bridges are considered obsolete or deficient, but more than one in every five are still considered substandard.

The report released Wednesday by AAA Carolinas examined the state’s 9,200 bridges and found about 21 percent (1,828 overall) are considered “substandard,” which means they are not designed to handle the traffic volume they see each day. That was a small decrease from the 2012 report, when 1,880 bridges were classified as substandard. The national average is 24 percent.

Substandard bridges fall under two categories by federal guidelines: structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Structurally deficient is defined as “being in relatively poor physical condition and/or inadequate to handle truck weight.” Functionally obsolete is defined as “having inadequate design for current traffic volume.” The designation does not mean the bridges are unsafe.

“South Carolina’s bridges have improved. They’ve gone from 23 percent to this year being around 20-21 percent,” AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Tiffany Wright told South Carolina Radio Network. “It’s a small increase but, hey, it’s an improvement.” [Read more...]

Fort Jackson commander says public’s help may be needed to avoid cuts

Fort Jackson Gate 2The long-term future of Fort Jackson was discussed at a meeting of the South Carolina Military Base Task Force Tuesday, as another round of military cuts are scheduled to be made in 2017.

An Army assessment study of several base reduction scenarios, which included Fort Jackson, was completed in June. Fort Jackson commanding officer Major General Bradley Becker said the assessment was based on a worst case scenario of reducing the current permanent workforce personnel 0f 5,735 – including 2,400 civilian employees — by 3,100. Becker said such a cut would severely reduce the number of soldiers completing basic training at the base, and that in turn would cut the number of visitors to the installation.

“So instead of having 5,000 visitors a week to Columbia which we get now, based on our graduation of 45,000 soldiers a year, we would be reduced to hundreds of visitors per week,” he said.

Becker said a major reduction in visitors who come to the base for basic combat training graduations would put a huge dent in the Midlands-area economy.

“Those visitors who come every single week stay downtown, eat in the restaurants, and usually stay two days,” he said. “That is a huge impact. The Army in their assessment acknowledged that there were about 5,000 visitors per week because of basic combat training graduation, but they did not account for that economic impact.”

Becker said Fort Jackson amounts to about a $2.6 billion overall economic impact for the Midlands area.

Becker pointed to the public feedback portion of the Army’s assessment period, which ends August 15. He added that time is of the essence in getting the Midlands community energized to let the Army know how much Fort Jackson means to the community. Becker said he believes the Army looks carefully at the areas that have greatest level of resistance to reduction when they make their on-site visits.

The impending reductions could turn out to be an opportunity for Fort Jackson, as the Army could also decide to relocate basic combat training operations currently at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Fort Benning, Georgia. Fort Jackson trains 54 percent of the soldiers that enter the Army through basic combat training and Becker said the installation is poised for expansion from a logistic and economic standpoint.

“We’ve got nine battalions now and by 2018, based on current construction projects, we’ll have the capacity for 11 battalions,” he said. “So we can actually increase capacity based on dollars that are already committed over the next several years. By next year we’ll have capacity for 10 battalions.”

Retired Major General George Goldsmith, who handles military affairs with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said Fort Jackson shares a rich heritage with the Midlands. Area businessmen donated 1,200 acres in 1917 to the then-Department of War to train soldiers at what began as Camp Jackson.

“The stipulation was that it be used as a training base. So in 1917 they began training soldiers to go into World War I,” he said. “They have trained soldiers in every war since then.”

Goldsmith said local supporters of Fort Jackson have launched a letter-writing campaign to express their support for the installation, with Governor Nikki Haley and the state’s congressional delegation also involved. A petition supporting the installation also appears on the state Department of Commerce website.


Gay rights group calls on SC Atty Gen to stop defending same-sex marriage ban



SC Attorney General Alan Wilson said his office would continue defending SC’s ban (File)

A South Carolina gay-rights group has launched a petition drive asking State Attorney General Alan Wilson to stop defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

The drive comes a few days after a federal appeals court ruled a similar Virginia law unconstitutional. That decision has potential implications for South Carolina because it was made by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes the Palmetto State.

SC Equality executive director Ryan Wilson (no relation) said his organization is working with the ACLU’s South Carolina chapter to gather enough signatures that he hopes will send a message. “We felt that gathering a group of individuals together who all share this common goal would show strength in numbers and help unify the movement in South Carolina towards equality,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.

He noted North Carolina Attorney Gen. Roy Cooper had said his office would not defend the Tar Heel State’s constitutional ban. Cooper is a Democrat, while Alan Wilson is Republican.

South Carolina residents overwhelmingly voted in 2006 to include an amendment to the state constitution that only recognizes unions between one man and one woman. Like Virginia’s constitution, South Carolina’s amendment also does not allow the state or its municipalities to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The Attorney General’s Office said Monday it will continue to defend South Carolina’s ban as long as it remains in place. “Ultimately, this will be a decision for the U.S. Supreme Court,” agency spokesman J. Mark Powell said in an email. “People should not rush to act or react until that time, when a decision is made by the highest court in the land.”

State prosecutors have been arguing against a lawsuit filed by a Lexington couple — Katie Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin — who claim South Carolina’s ban is unconstitutional. The case had been on hold pending the appeals court’s decision in the Virginia case. Following Monday’s ruling, the couple’s attorney Carrie Warner indicated she will ask for summary judgment.

Wilson’s Democratic opponent in November, Garden City attorney Parnell Diggs, told The State newspaper that he does not think South Carolina should spend taxpayer money to defend a ban that likely will be overturned by the Supreme Court.

Boeing to assemble new Dreamliner version only in SC

The 787-10 will be longer than Boeing's 787 jetliner currently assembled at the North Charleston site (File)

The 787-10 will be longer than Boeing’s 787 jetliner currently assembled at the North Charleston site (File)

Boeing plans to build a new larger version of its 787 Dreamliner exclusively at its North Charleston facility, the aerospace giant announced Wednesday.

The new 787-10 is longer than the Dreamliners currently being assembled at the company’s South Carolina site, which opened in 2011. The first plane is scheduled to be assembled beginning in 2017.

“We looked at all our options and found the most efficient and effective solution is to build the 787-10 at Boeing South Carolina,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president and general manager for the 787 program Larry Loftis said in a statement. “This will allow us to balance 787 production across the North Charleston and Everett sites as we increase production rates. We’re happy with our growth and success in South Carolina, and the continued success at both sites gives us confidence in our plan going forward.”

The announcement was also significant because it marks the first time Boeing has assembled an jetliner model entirely with nonunion workers. The North Charleston site had been assembling Boeing’s current Dreamliner version with workers in Everett, Washington.

Boeing officials said the South Carolina final assembly plant will gradually increase from three 787s per month currently to five per month in 2016 and seven per month by the end of the decade.

In a statement, Gov. Nikki Haley called the announcement “huge” for South Carolina. “That Boeing is committing the future of the Dreamliner to our state – the first place, ever, outside of Washington State that Boeing has built a commercial airplane – lets the whole world know that South Carolina workers are the best around. The success that Boeing South Carolina has become in less than five years is a testament to the Boeing leadership and above all, the Boeing employees whose talent and dedication make all of us so proud. It truly is another great day in South Carolina.”

Little River gambling boat shuts down

Image: SunCruz Casino Facebook page

Image: SunCruz Casino Facebook page

One of the Grand Strand’s two casino boats, and one of only a handful that operate in South Carolina, has shut down.

Calls to the SunCruz business line get a recorded message. “As of today, July 28, 2014, Jacks or Better SunCruz Casinos has ceased all operations.” The voice then directs anyone still interested in playing to visit Little River’s other casino boat “Big M.” There was no explanation for the shutdown. Roughly 200 employees worked for the business, according to the Little River Chamber of Commerce.

Casino boats legally get around South Carolina’s gambling ban by sailing off the coast and into international waters.

The closure came as a bit of a surprise. WPDE-TV reported Tuesday the vessel was apparently operating as late as Sunday, with a message posted to its Facebook page promoting a Sunday cruise. A calendar on the company’s website still shows events for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in July.

But SunCruz had been involved in a legal fight with Horry County for the past two years over a $7 per passenger fee the county had imposed on the boat.

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus told the Associated Press that the county had been negotiating a settlement of debt with SunCruz. The county and casino had not agreed on how much the company owed for its passengers.