ST. GEORGE — The congressman came to town Monday looking for federal stimulus projects he can push. Dorchester County officials came away confident their projects made the list.

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., told local elected officials that he wanted to make sure chronically poor rural communities didn't get left out of the federal money coming to the state, pointing to communities in counties along the Interstate 95 corridor, like upper Dorchester.

All things being equal, funding should benefit disadvantaged communities, Clyburn said. "A tie goes to the needy."

disadvantaged communities, Clyburn said. "A tie goes to the needy."

County officials asked first for help with a $16 million grant to improve U.S. Highway 78, the north-south thoroughfare. But Clyburn seized on a proposed $10 million grant that would provide water for Harleyville from the Lake Marion Regional Water System, and his eyes lit up when Dick Byrd, Dorchester County public works director, brought up a $13 million proposal to store and pipe treated wastewater for industrial use instead of discharging it into the Ashley River.

"Tag this one," he told staff.

Rural communities long have thought they are a thing of the past, Clyburn said, but the need to develop biofuels has demonstrated they are a thing of the future, so support for rural projects will bring "new economy" energy jobs. He noted he has championed the Lake Marion water project for the 12 years he's been in office.

"We're going to get this water system in place, and we're not going to worry a whole lot about people concerned with earmarks," he said, referring to the controversial legislative process of inserting special projects in large funding bills. Earmarks helped get the Lake Marion project built, he said.

"There's nothing wrong with earmarks. There's something wrong with some earmarkers, and that's why some of them are in prison today," he said.

Clyburn also said he would talk with state highway officials about funding for the Highway 78 project. County officials also sought funding to improve the county's proposed "regional" wastewater treatment plant in St. George and to help build the new county courthouse campus and East Edisto Business Park.

Jamie Feltner, county council chairman, said leaders came away "very comfortable" with the congressman's remarks. The projects presented to Clyburn are "shovel ready" and would put people to work, Feltner said. "He understands that. I think he was looking for somebody to step up (with projects like that), so he could step up and help with funding."

The Monday meeting in St. George was requested by county officials and attended by local state legislators and municipal and other leaders.