For over 10 years I lived in the heart of McClellanville, and during that period, South Carolina Electric and Gas Company provided my electric service. I quickly learned that from time to time the lights would flicker off and on, and if it rained hard enough, the wind blew hard enough, if a tree limb rubbed up against the wire a little too much, or if an automobile ran off the road and took out a power pole between McClellanville and Awendaw, I could expect to be without power for a few minutes or even a few hours. Lighting candles to see my way and resetting my alarm clock became a normal occurrence.
Life in darkness is something you learn to live with if you are going the call McClellanville your home.
Today, I live just outside of McClellanville and my electricity comes from Berkeley Electric Cooperative. When I lived in "The Village" I was told that the service given by Berkeley Electric was far superior to that of South Carolina Electric and Gas Company.
Well, that's just not so. My lights still flicker, the power still goes off, I still buy candles and I still reset my alarm clock way too often. For years the people who live in and near McClellanville have begged the town's mayor and Town Council to insist that the two power companies provide the community with more reliable electric service. On many occasions, at the invitation of the mayor and council, the two companies have sent representatives to council meetings to explain that there are too few customers in the region and that it would cost too much money to fix the problem.
Well, a year or so ago, Berkeley Electric informed the community that they were formulating plans to correct the power problems. You can't imagine how excited the community was.
The power company held a meeting to seek opinions on which one of several power sources and routes the community might choose. Those attending were shown six or seven power line routes. Some showed high power lines coming from the south, up Highway 17, to McClellanville. A couple showed high power lines from the north, across the Santee Delta and on to McClellanville. Almost every person in attendance told the power company representatives that they preferred plans that brought the power from the south along the existing right of way. In no uncertain terms and sometimes in a loud voice the representatives were told that they should bring power to the village by any means except by crossing the Santee Delta.
A few weeks ago a second mandatory meeting was held. When seven new plans were laid out, every one showed high power lines coming from the north. All of the southern routes had been eliminated for being "just too expensive." Several of the plans brought the power lines and high voltage towers across the North Santee River, the Santee Delta, the South Santee River and several historic properties.
They didn't seem to know a thing about the important part the Santee Delta plays in the lives many rare species of animals and migratory birds. They didn't seem to know much at all about the part the Santee Delta and the Santee Rivers, along with the plantations that dotted its banks, played in the story of the rice culture of South Carolina. Only the ACE Basin in the lower part of our state can compare to the Santee Delta in historical richness, natural beauty, and importance to wildlife.
They didn't know that one of the properties that they want to cross, Peachtree Plantation, was the birthplace of Thomas Lynch Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The sensitive remains of his birthplace are presently being studied by archeologists. On the same property, Jonathan Lucas, the famous millwright, built the first successful water-powered rice mill. That mill and the ones Lucas would later build changed the fortunes of the region's planters and changed the history of America.
Near the power line routes are several properties on the National Register of Historic Places, such as Hampton Plantation (home of Archibald Rutledge, the first poet laureate of South Carolina), Hopsewee Plantation (Thomas Lynch's later home), Fairfield Plantation (home of Thomas Pinckney, Revolutionary War General, presidential candidate, one of America's first foreign ambassadors, governor of South Carolina), and St. James, Santee Parish Episcopal Church (a colonial house of worship built in 1768). The last unpaved, public section of the Old Georgetown Road (also known as the Kings Highway) is in the area and on June 27 of this year was approved for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of a handful of roadways to be named to the list.
I attended both of the "required" public meetings and when I exited the last one I knew that nothing that community members said at either meeting really mattered. It was apparent to me that Berkeley Electric has already chosen the power line route - the cheapest one.
My plea to the decision makers at Berkeley Electric is this: If your plan is to bring power lines and giant towers across the Santee Delta in order to stop my lights from flickering, please don't do it. Leave everything just as it is. I would rather live my life in darkness than to have you destroy one of the most amazing places on this Earth. Let my lights continue to flicker while you go back to the drawing board. Surely, you can find a route that does less harm. I beg you, leave the Delta alone.
Please listen to the community you say you wish to help.
Selden B. Hill is director of The Village Museum at McClellanville.