Key legislators held off on funding nearly $1 million in emergency repairs to two South Carolina state parks heavily damaged by Hurricane Matthew, instead urging parks officials to finish estimating the damage and needs for each affected park before they would approve any extra construction money.
Members of the Joint Bond Review Committee on Tuesday gave their approval for design and engineering work at Edisto Beach and Hunting Island state parks. However, they stopped short of approving the entire rebuilding process as officials at the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PRT) requested.
PRT officials say the two parks need more than $3.5 million in total repairs, which includes significant damage to campgrounds in both parks, rebuilding restrooms in Hunting Island and restoring roads and other infrastructure damaged by an estimated 10-foot storm surge. Three-quarters of those costs would be reimbursed by the Federal Elergency Management Agency (FEMA), with the other quarter ($875,000) coming from the state.
Legislators were concerned that, even though more than a dozen parks were closed due to storm damage earlier this month, PRT officials were only seeking money to repair two of them.
“I understand the urgency of getting the parks open, but I think what PRT needs to do is come to the General Assembly and lay out a plan for all the parks,” JBRC Chairman Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said. “And we address state parks, we’ll address all of them.”
State Parks Superintendent Phil Gaines said Edisto and Hunting Island are the only parks still closed. Both are also popular with tourists, he added, normally bringing in enough revenue to help cover operating losses at less-popular parks in the system.
“These are the two critical parks that have been literally devastated,” he told lawmakers. “Hunting Island is unrecognizable. Hunting and Edisto are not manageable at this level.”
He added officials want to move quickly to have both parks repaired by next summer. FEMA also has tight deadlines for state government agencies hoping to be reimbursed for cleanup and repair costs.
Leatherman said he’s worried mistakes happen when projects are rushed. Other lawmakers agreed with him, noting they would like to see additional funds set aside for other parks damaged in the storm.
A PRT spokeswoman said Tuesday there is no set date for the parks to reopen to the public at this time, although the nature center at Hunting Island remains open.
According to state parks officials, storm surge destroyed most of the infrastructure at Edisto Beach’s campground and the power and plumbing lines must be repaired, while picnic tables and campfire rings must be replaced at 64 campsites. At Hunting Island, 89 campsites were damaged. Due to heavy erosion, two comfort stations are now on the edge of the water which must be demolished and relocated. Six beach access walkways were also destroyed in the surge.
The State Fiscal Accountability Authority must also approve the additional spending at its meeting next week.