Anderson Independent: Oconee delegation leads “resounding” override of Gov. veto

By David Williams


The South Carolina House of Representatives wasted little time in overriding S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford’s veto of the Joint Authority Water and Sewer Systems Act.

S.C. Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca, called the 81-10 override vote Tuesday in the House “resounding” and said the Senate would take up the measure Wednesday.

“The Senate will look at the strong vote in the House where the legislation originated,” Rep. Sandifer said. “Sen. Alexander (Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla) is working extremely hard to see that this is done. All of us believe this is so, so very critical to economic development in Oconee County.”

In a letter to Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, Gov. Sanford said, “With the enactment of Home Rule in 1974, counties and municipalities are now able to provide these services and in most cases do. The people elect their representatives to city and county councils and those entities should decide how services are provided, hot special purpose districts comprised, in most cases, of unelected representatives.”

The bill, which amended the Joint Municipal Water Systems Act, created a framework for water and sewer services that could be used by counties and cities throughout South Carolina.

The Oconee County delegation said it used the water systems act as a basis because it had statewide support.

“There are two very visible districts in our area everyone can recognize,” Rep. Sandifer said. “Pioneer Water District and Fort Hill Natural Gas. Without the original legislation the southern area of Oconee County would not have water and Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties would not have natural gas service.”

Rep. Sandifer said during the whole legislative process of the bill going from the House to the Senate then to the Governor’s desk, the Governor never contacted the Oconee delegation and said he was opposed to the measure.

Sen. Alexander said he would take up the override effort Wednesday.

“Rep. Whitmire (Bill Whitmire, R-Walhalla) and Rep. Sandifer led the unified effort in the House to override the veto,” Sen. Alexander said. “It will now come to the Senate where I hope to see the same kind of support to override the veto.”

County Attorney Brad Norton said he had heard the governor was considering vetoing the bill but said the city councils that would create the new Oconee County Municipal Sewer Authority, were elected by the people.

“The city councils will be deciding how the sewer authority is created should the county decide to divest itself of its sewer operations,” Mr. Norton said.

Leaders of Oconee County’s five cities have reviewed plans that would create the Oconee County Municipal Sewer Authority and do away with the current Oconee County Sewer Commission.

The plan drawn up by attorney Lowell Ross, the sewer commission’s lawyer, came together after Mr. Ross reviewed the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the 1976 referendum, which created the current sewer commission.

The Supreme Court agreed with Oconee County resident Susie Cornelius’ stance that 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 that are now the sewer commission’s customers.

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

County officials have long wanted to put sewer service along the county’s Interstate 85 corridor but can not pay for a project under the current system. If the cities took over the system, the county could contract with the municipal authority for sewer service.