For 20 years, Darlington County officials have been trying to ease flooding in an area just to the southeast of the city of Darlington. County officials had believed they would finally be able to start work on a solution this year, but the entire project is now in jeopardy after the expected state funds failed to materialize.
The area’s flat terrain and antiquated drainage systems often leads to stagnant water and flooding in the South Darlington community located between U.S. 52 and McIver Road southeast of the town. There is little in the way of sewage infrastructure here and the few existing pipes are over 100 year old and made of obsolete terracotta material, according to Darlington mayor Tony Watkins.
“In the county, where these areas grew up without a lot of infrastructure or planning, there’s very little drainage infrastructure,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “So, when we have a major rainfall, they’re going to flood.”
Darlington County applied for and received $2.5 million in federal funds to create a drainage and retention system as part of the 2009 “stimulus” package, according to County Administrator Dale Surrett. However, the federal government required Darlington County to perform $738,000 worth of project work before it would release the money.
Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Hartsville) secured a $600,000 line in the state budget to kick-start the project this year. Governor Nikki Haley vetoed the money, considering it an earmark. While both the House and Senate overrode her to restore the funding, it was still not to be. Lawmakers learned last month that the state had collected about $14.7 million less revenue than predicted this year. Under a priority system previously approved in the budget, the South Darlington earmark was eliminated to make up the deficit.
That now leaves the federal money up in the air. Surrett said Darlington will not be able to access the grant after September 30, 2013, although he says the county has asked the government for an extension. That leaves one more budget year to find a solution, he says.
Watkins said the federal money is a necessity. “(Darlington County) absolutely could not pay for it. It’s something they have to rely on the federal government.”
Surrett said the county’s legislative delegation is looking to see if the project is eligible to receive funds from the state’s Rural Infrastructure Fund. Sen. Malloy, who represents the region, did not return a request for comment.
Surrett said he hopes the county is somehow able to raise the $600,000 for the sake of the South Darlington community. “They’ve been hearing folks talk for 20-plus years that the issue’s going to get improved,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “There’s a lot of hope that people can get everything pulled together.”