GEORGETOWN COUNTY — A thousand year flood hit the Spring Gully community in 2015, and resident Dedric Bonds said it was like a sword cut through the scarred, still-healing community.
“It was something that took the scab off Mother Earth,” Bonds said.
Many residents say Spring Gully, an unincorporated community just a few miles southwest of Georgetown city limits, has been wounded since its establishment, claiming it was not properly built some 50 years ago, and lacks basic drainage infrastructure.
Since the 2015 storm, Bonds said, issues in Spring Gully have only become worse.
Homes and yards are flooding with a simple rain storm.
Roads are falling apart, with potholes sprinkling state and county roads.
Residents like David Doiley are worried that if something is not done soon to fix these issues, more will arise and may become unfixable.
Doiley says that his den floods so badly when it rains, he has to buy two water pumps to keep the area dry. Even when he talked with contractors about building his den up higher from the ground, they said water would still collect and mold underneath, rendering the job nearly useless.
“We have to wear boots just to get to the mailboxes, and if I’ve got packages coming from UPS, the guys sometimes don’t even want to come to the area, they have to throw it to me in the yard,” Doiley said.
For the past three weeks, the residents of Spring Gully have pleaded with Georgetown County Council to allocate money from a surplus tax to fix their community’s issues. A Capital Project Sales Tax from 2014 left the county with an extra $12.5 million, and as part of a plan to distribute the surplus, each councilmember got $1 million to spend on capital projects in their district.
Spring Gully resides in District 4, and its councilperson Lillie Johnson originally allocated her $1 million for library improvements, until residents like Bonds strongly opposed the plan at a Feb. 23 council meeting — forcing the vote to be delayed.
Now, after two meetings this month between Johnson and her constituents on March 2 and 11, some residents believe they are on a path to something good, while others think still not enough is being done to ensure resident safety.
Terry Reed, one of the leaders of the Spring Gully Community Action Group, said he left the March 2 meeting with Johnson feeling hopeful. He said he felt Johnson had listened to him and his neighbors, and that she understood the community needed the money to go toward more urgent things than library upgrades.
Then March 11, Johnson announced she would propose $300,000 of her $1 million to council to fix the issues in Spring Gully, and the other $700,000 to the library, when $1.16 million is already allocated specifically to library improvements in the surplus’ general allotments.
After feeling ignored for so long already, Reed said this news was disappointing.
“Even after hearing the needs of her district … we thought that she would decide to give that whole million to her district, to the needs of her people. And she decided to not even give us half of it,” Reed said.
Johnson served two consecutive terms previously on council as District 4’s representative from 1993 to 2000, and after an 8-year break, has represented District 4 since.
Johnson declined to answer questions about the surplus tax or the meetings with Spring Gully residents when reached by The Post and Courier Myrtle Beach.
On March 11, Johnson gave residents a packet that outlined short-, medium- and long-term goals to fix the issues she heard from residents March 2. Short-term goals, within 9 months, include road inspections, citizen engagement with South Carolina State Delegation and a community clean-up.
“Unfortunately, many of the problems with the state roads and its roadside drainage within this area are beyond routine management,” the packet states.
It goes on to encourage residents to reach out to state representatives to request more state funding go toward maintaining and repairing the state roads in the area.
Medium-term goals, between 1 and 3 years, include addressing the county’s littering issue and working with SCDOT to investigate storm drains and conduct a traffic study.
Long-term goals, between 3 and 6+ years, include implementing a major drainage improvement project on McDonald Road and a county drainage improvement study to prioritize infrastructure improvements from downstream to upstream.
The packet covers how issues in the area can be addressed, but it is unclear if the $300,000 proposed will be or can be used for them specifically.
The Spring Gully Community Action Group was established in 2019, with Bonds as its president. Its first community event was a Trunk or Treat, and it had more community outreach planned until the pandemic hit, and the group suddenly took a back seat.
That is until Bonds learned about the surplus tax, and he mobilized his group to protest it.
From there, it was word of mouth and social media. What started as 11 people speaking in front of the county council about that surplus tax on Feb. 23 turned into nearly 40 residents filling McDonald Elementary School’s multipurpose room March 11, pleading for adequate funding to fix their community, as well as a Facebook group with more than 100 members who are active weekly, posting information about their fight with the county and ideas on how to make things better.
Reed said while Spring Gully has always been tight knit, a community where folks who are born there often return to take care of parents or move into relatives’ old homes, the neglect of it and the urgent need for changes has brought residents together like never before.
“This is the first time we have come together, at large, as a group,” Reed said.
Some residents at the meeting thought the $300,000 was a good start, with Bonds saying he doesn’t want to criticize a humble beginning, but a common consensus among the community remains: even the full $1 million likely wouldn’t cover everything the community needs fixed.
While Bonds recognizes this financial reality, and said he will continue to fight for more funding, he also said he is focused on bigger picture issues for Spring Gully. He said he doesn’t want quick fixes, but rather serious infrastructure work done to roads and drainage systems to ensure that the community will stay safe and be protected for years to come.
Fighting for his community has always been about mutual respect, Bonds said, and about showing people what can happen when they make their voices heard.
“None of these problems are small, none of the solutions are small, but it takes neighborhood residents who have the fortitude to take down these giant problems,” Bonds said.
The surplus tax allocation is expected to be discussed again at county council March 23 after council said Feb. 23 it would try to return to the topic in 30 days to allow for reevaluations.
Reed said his goal at this meeting is to let council know that he and his community are disappointed not only in the $300,000 proposal, but in the fact that the county significantly cut its stormwater budget the last two years.
“It is one thing to not know your community and district have a need, and it's another thing to know that they have a need and still decide to not fully contribute to that need,” Reed said.