Anderson Independent Mail: Sewer plan survives in Oconee

By David Williams

On the heels of an 81-10 override of the governor’s veto by the House, the Senate rode right over Gov. Mark Sanford’s veto of the Joint Authority Water and Sewer Systems Act by a 44-0 vote Wednesday.

The measure that has been described as a framework for cities and counties across South Carolina to work together on infrastructure projects now becomes law without the governor’s signature.

In vetoing the measure this week, Gov. Sanford said he had reservations about a bill that perpetuates the reach of special purpose districts.

Gov. Sanford noted that South Carolina has about 300 special purpose districts that provide water, sewer, fire, ambulance and other community services.

“The people elect their representatives to city and county councils and those entities should decide how services are provided, not special purpose districts comprised, in most cases, of unelected representatives,” the governor wrote in a letter to House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.

State Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla, said he was pleased the veto override had such good support.

‘This is not only an opportunity for the future of our community, but communities across South Carolina,” Sen. Alexander said. “This will allow municipalities and counties to work together. I’m extremely proud of the effort in the House led by Rep. [Bill] Sandifer (R-Seneca) and Rep. [Bill] Whitmire (R-Walhalla). Our focus is to provide assistance to the citizens in the county and to make sure they have water and sewer where it is deemed appropriate.”

Jim Alexander, executive director of the Oconee County Economic Development Commission, applauded the work of Oconee County’s legislative delegation.

“This will allow us to do some things, hopefully in the very near future,” Mr. Alexander said. “We are looking at all ways to improve the county’s infrastructure and bring new business here.”

Attorney Lowell Ross of Walhalla, who is the current sewer commission’s attorney and who also was instrumental in the formation of the sewer commission in the early 1970s, said discussions have already started on how to form a new sewer authority.

“I met with the sewer commission Monday and asked them to go ahead and appoint a transition committee,” Mr. Ross said Wednesday.

He said he thought the process could be completed by September or October and that an application for what is now being called the Oconee Municipal Sewer Authority could be submitted to the Secretary of State this fall.

Mr. Ross said he was concerned by the governor’s veto of the Joint Authority Water and Sewer Systems Act.

Mr. Ross said it was his opinion once a new sewer authority is created in the county the county can enter into a contract with the authority. Mr. Ross has reviewed a state Supreme Court ruling that upheld the 1976 referendum, which created the current sewer commission.

Oconee County resident Susie Cornelius challenged the county’s attempt to use taxpayer money to support sewer projects. The Supreme Court upheld Ms. Cornelius stance that the 1976 referendum said only user fees, state and federal grants and bonds paid for with user fees could support sewer in Oconee County.

Mr. Ross has said the only way the county could fund sewer projects would be to convey the entire sewer system to the cities once a municipal authority was created.

There is nothing in the referendum, the Supreme Court’s order or a lower court’s order that limits the county’s authority to contract with other public or private entities to provide sewer services, Mr. Ross said.

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