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Senate Democrats float borrowing plan for flood recovery

  • Updated
Senate Democrats float borrowing plan for flood recovery

Flooded areas in the Midlands of South Carolina during heavy rains in October. More than 2 feet of rain fell in some areas in less than two days, sending rivers over their banks and bursting dams.

COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s Senate Democrats plan to prefile a $500 million bond bill to cover statewide damage from the 1,000-year flood in October that washed out roads and bridges and burst dams.

The $500 million isn’t an estimate of the cost the state is facing, just a starting point for discussion, lawmakers said. An assessment of the damage from the historic flooding is still ongoing, with some pegging it at $1 billion at a minimum.

In a written release, Minority Leader Sen. Nikki Setzler and Assistant Minority Leader Sen. John Matthews said preliminary estimates are the price tag could rival the recovery costs after Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm that devastated coastal South Carolina in September 1989.

“It’s an astronomical task that we face and it’s going to take ... a bipartisan (effort),” Setzler, D-West Columbia, said Monday during a meeting of a special Senate committee on flood relief. “I (truly) believe the devastation is more than the public yet understands.”

But other lawmakers said drafting a borrowing bill before determining the recovery costs is premature.

“I would like to hear some hard numbers and they said, ‘Maybe we can get some hard numbers in a couple of weeks to see how much money we do need,’ ” said Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney. “A $500 million bond bill just out of the blue — we may even need more, I don’t know, but I think it’s premature to do that.”

Setzler acknowledged that last legislative session Gov. Nikki Haley likened a proposed $500 million bond bill slated for facilities on college campuses and rehabilitating armories to “running up the state’s credit card.” The flood, Setzler said, will require both parties and all branches of government to work together.

“This ... was not a Republican or Democratic flood, this was about the people of South Carolina and the damage it did,” he said.

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The bill would authorize borrowing $500 million for the Department of Transportation for the replacement, reconstruction or structural repairs of state-owned roads. Setzler said the figure could be adjusted as needed.

The bill would set aside up to $125 million of the $500 million for local, nonstate-owned roads. It would also prevent borrowed money from being used if the federal government covers the same recovery project.

Heads of six state departments briefed the committee on damage and expenses incurred during the storm, including staffing. Departments are not expected to have totals to the committee until later this month.

Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Duane Parrish estimated the state lost between $30 million and $35 million in tourism revenue due to the flooding.

Bills for the legislative session beginning in January can’t be prefiled until December.

“We’re ready and willing to do what needs to be done, but we need to know what needs to be done,” said Sen. Hugh Leatherman, president pro tempore of the S.C. Senate.

Gavin Jackson contributed to this report. Reach Cynthia Roldan at (843) 708-5891. Reach Maya T. Prabhu at (843) 509-8933.

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