By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
There were a lot of things different about Seabrook town hall on Nov. 17, 2015. Flags were at half-staff mourning the victims of terror attacks in Paris as a new council met for the first time. Mayor Pro Tem Ron Ciancio had won the mayor’s seat, and fellow incumbents John “Jody” Turner and John Gregg had retained their seats. The three were joined by newly elected members Skip Crane and John Wells. Some things stay the same, however, like Seabrook’s trademark “never ending candy bowl” and a penchant for punctuality. The town council meeting began at 2:30 p.m. sharp.
Obligations were dispatched and a positive financial report was followed by the first speaker of the new administration.
Jim Rozier, Chairman of the South Carolina Department of Transportation Commission was in the house to discuss roads on Johns Island. The DOT veteran vented some frustration he hadn’t known about or been invited to a meeting on the same subject the night before at St. Johns High School. Rozier was just getting up a head of steam when Seabrook resident Kevin Dunn interjected, saying he had been inundated with announcements of the Johns Island meeting through multiple media outlets.
Mayor Ciancio, who opposes the timing of the Burden’s Creek Bridge replacement in particular, kept proceedings calm by saying the Johns Island meeting had not been particularly productive. Rozier then went on to describe the issue in more detail.
“We had 541 roads and bridges closed [as a result of October flooding]. Eighty seven percent of those are open again,” he said. He continued by telling council that roads had been repaired, while acknowledging the difference from actually being fixed. Rozier continued by stating South Carolina had the third lowest gas tax and the second most roads under state management in the nation.
Combining those numbers with a majority of the state’s General Assembly having pledged, in writing, not to raise taxes of any kind, poses a serious impediment to lasting solutions, he intimated. However, the obstacles he cited didn’t end there.
The advent of electric cars and trucks, coupled with inflation and better gas mileage, have also contributed to SC having less money for road repairs, he said, as the gas tax is the only source of revenue.
Rozier’s presentation was quite thorough, suggesting an increase in the gas tax to over $0.40 (in-line with neighboring North Carolina and Georgia) would be required. Specific solutions, such as completing I526, he said, weren’t going to happen given the project’s current $305 million shortfall. “Widening some roads would help,” he said. “But you have to pay the tree huggers for that.” Mayor Ciancio stepped in, pivoting to the Burden’s Creek Bridge project.
The new mayor said 65 days (June 11 through August 14) of 18 mile detours should not be attempted during hurricane season, as currently planned in deference to local schools. The plan could be done at any time of year by altering the hours local schools were in operation. He closed citizen’s comments by hinting at holding his own forum. The mayor plans to invite state representatives, Rozier and the public to a town hall style meeting in the near future.
Councilmember John Gregg dove head first in to his Community Relations report on the Seabrook Island Club. Following up on past comments, Gregg pointed out the value of asking while emphasizing participation in surveys has declined to the point of questioning their value.
However, while the club doesn’t want to be dependent on the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association for information, they are working with SIPOA to improve questionnaires. They still hope to pare down the next effort to as few as five questions and improve communications in general. Results will be posted and anonymity will be protected said Gregg. There was no Public Safety Committee activity for him to report this month but he mentioned several topics for a prospective agenda including;
• Communications will be a featured topic (including feedback on which channels were most successful during the October flooding events)
• SIPOA will continue with E-Blasts
• Seabrook is working with SIPOA to improve notifications through councilmember Turner and his efforts
• Looking for solutions that will continue to function even if an evacuation is in progress
• Seabrook has but needs to make better use of Twitter, depending on participation of residents
Newly elected councilmember John Wells opened by thanking residents for their support and trust. Talking about roads, he vowed to “start with what we have, patch, and plan for the future.” The area from the Seabrook gate to the traffic circle is of particular interest to Wells. He said drainage, landscaping and signage needed to be upgraded and be consistent with the Seabrook brand.
Newly elected councilmember Skip Crane was next to thank Seabrook residents for their support and trust.
Crane had attended the SIPOA Planning Committee meeting Nov. 10. Items of interest included:
1. The PC moved to have the strategic plan on the agenda for the next SIPOA Board meeting for comment and approval.
2. The PC raised the question of using the franchise fees residents pay to providers (a portion of which gets routed from the state back to Seabrook) to improve and/or upgrade the level of service provided (e.g. better phone, internet). “The PC is looking to leverage what residents pay to get the best service,“ said Crane. (Mayor Ciancio interjected, saying franchise fees come through providers, to the State and then to Seabrook’s general fund.)
3. The subject of placing webcams at strategic viewpoints was discussed in the wake of recent flooding. However it was later dismissed as an unnecessary expense, although no information was provided on cost.
Councilmember Crane has also been in contact with the Chair of the Gateway Committee. The committee is in something of a holding pattern at the moment, waiting for the utility survey to be completed. Crane also reported attending the SIPOA board meeting, making particular note the proposed dog park is not intended to replace, but to augment the designated beach area.
The new council meant there was no old business to report but a ton of new business to take care of.
A. John Gregg was confirmed as Mayor Pro Tem, and will remain chair of the Public Safety Committee and be the town’s liaison with the club
B. Johns Wells will take over Seabrook’s advertising and work with town administrator Randy Pierce
C. Skip Crane was assigned to community relations with SIPOA as well as Camp St. Christopher and Bohicket Marina
D. Jody Tuner will continue his work related to the environment, the beach management plan, comprehensive emergency plan (with emphasis on communicating adverse conditions) and Johns Island roads.
E. Seabrook’s Christmas party was ratified. The Toys for Tots event (bringing toys can start anytime) is scheduled for Dec. 10 from noon until 2 p.m.
F. BB&T was selected as the town’s bank of choice
G. 2016 meeting dates were established and will be posted on the website
H. Debra Lehman was appointed as Seabrook’s Fire Commissioner
Three terms later, Fire Commissioner Sue Holloman is retiring from the post after twelve years and heartily endorsed Lehman saying “the position would benefit from new eyes.” Holloman would later tell The Island Connection “I got into the commission because I was asked to do so. I had been president of [SlPOA] and then Secretary of the Seabrook Club Board of Governors and the Mayor at that time felt that I might be a good fit. It sounded interesting and something I hadn’t done before.”
“I was looking for someone with leadership potential, a good solid business or organization background and someone involved in our community,” Hollman said of Lehman. “I met her at a meeting, heard her speak and the rest is history,” concluded Holloman, who will continue looking for the [next] right opportunity. Jeff Bostock’s report on the Seabrook Island Utility was as steady as ever.
He mentioned two minor South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control citations again this month. Both citations were addressed and deemed anomalous. The first was a slightly elevated volume [of water] going through the system and the other was a minor increase in the amount of dissolved oxygen.
Seabrook resident Kevin Dunn was still present and still very interested in the roads on Johns Island. He opened a lengthy discussion, which started when he asked if:
1. The flooding on the Betsy Kerrison has been mentioned during the previous night’s meeting at St. Johns High School
2. What about an extra lane from the Stono River bridge to River Rd.?
Mayor Ciancio said “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second before questioning the legislative authority of the meeting’s organizers.
The meeting adjourned shortly after. The next council meeting will be held Dec. 15, 2015.