More than a decade after the money was collected — and with $1 million of that 2007 capital project sales tax money already spent on the venture — Greenwood County is the closest it’s ever been to finally building an emergency spillway at the lake.
On Tuesday, the County Council gave its blessing to a $145,000 transfer from a “hydro project fund” to pay for engineering and consulting fees as officials move to complete 60% of design work on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission-mandated structure.
Between 2008 and 2015, Greenwood County raised $43.7 million through a voter-approved penny sales tax, allowing for the construction of a new library and the retirement of outstanding debt.
But almost half that money remains unused, as local leaders have battled with federal regulators on the scope and need for the spillway — also called a fuse plug — which FERC has required to prevent catastrophic flooding should a major disaster strike and overflow the lake.
Diverting floodwaters through the spillway — which is part of Buzzard’s Roost — would protect the lake’s earthen dam and a 15-megawatt hydroelectric facility less than a mile away.
“We’ve got to see this thing to completion,” County Council chairman Steve Brown said. County Engineer Rob Russian said that, to date, just more than $1 million has already been expended on the project.
Councilman Chuck Moates posed a question to Russian that has been on the minds of county leaders and others who have followed the fuse plug saga since it began.
“Will we have enough money to get the project finished and paid for and a rebate, maybe, to the taxpayer,” he asked.
Russian said current estimates of overall project costs fall within the $22 million available to finance it.
“I’m optimistic about that,” Russian said — although the inability for the county to move forward with construction due to FERC’s bureaucratic hurdles remains a sore point for many on the council.
“We’ve spent a million dollars so far, and we haven’t dug a hole yet. That’s all for design and consulting,” councilman Mark Allison said.
Initially, FERC wanted the county to spend millions more to earthquake-proof an earthen dam, but after seven years of negotiations, local officials got the agency to instead agree to a seismic analysis – with the surplus money going toward debt payments.
“As frustrating as this process has been, I don’t want to forget the fact this council and previous councils have worked diligently to get that number way down over the years from what they originally said,” councilman Robbie Templeton said.
Russian said the $1 million spent so far is still within 5% of the project’s total cost.
“When you start talking about consulting work or engineering work on any type of project, you’re typically in the 10 to 15% range of the overall project, so we still have work to do, but we haven’t surpassed the normal engineering percentage for a project like this,” Russian said.