The projects for which $30 million was raised via a special penny sales tax are still on hold while Greenwood County staff attempt to persuade the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to reduce standards they imposed on the county.
Residents of Greenwood County approved a capital project tax in 2006 that allowed the county to raise $40 million - $10 million for the new library and $30 million for two projects at Buzzards Roost Dam. The tax was stopped last June after the county reached the $40 million mark.
One of the two dam projects mandated by FERC was a seismic upgrade to the earthen dam. The county hired an expert to fight the mandate, arguing that the upgrades mandated were more appropriate for an area more likely to have a major earthquake. FERC agreed with the expert’s assessment and removed the mandate last June. The cost to hire the expert was about $500,000, according to county engineer Larry Smith. The expense saved taxpayers roughly $15 million.
Last August, the county, with unanimous council approval, hired a consulting firm to dispute requirements of the other FERC mandated project at a cost of about $144,000. That project would require upgrades to the fuse plug at the dam that would allow it to withstand the maximum probable flood for a period exceeding 10,000 years. Smith said that the requirements are based on past data and a lot of computer modeling.
Smith said that, even though he is a certified civil engineer, FERC will only accept proposals from nationally recognized engineers and experts in that particular field of study. Smith also said that a number of counties on the east coast have been able to successfully reduce their probable maximum flood by hiring consultants.
Greenwood County hired HDR, Inc., a global consulting firm known for their work at Hoover Dam, to assist in refuting what Smith called “the science behind the mandates.” HDR is currently putting together the final report on the site specific probable maximum precipitation (SSPMP), which will be submitted to FERC by the end of February. The SSPMP data will then be used to determine the probable maximum flood and submitted in a final report to FERC in May. Should FERC agree with the consultants, taxpayers could save another significant amount of money.
As for the money saved by reducing the requirements of the FERC mandates, county manager Toby Chappell said that the decision would rest with council. Chappell said he felt the most viable option would be to use the money to pay down some of the county’s debt.
Smith told council in August that he hoped there would be a resolution before the end of the fiscal year on June 30, but noted that the involvement of FERC could delay things considerably.