At Monday night’s Fairfield County Council meeting the council gave second reading to an ordinance about a fee in lieu of tax arrangement between Fairfield County and the Shaw Group.
County council spent a good deal of time discussing the increased employment opportunities for locals, or lack thereof, that apply to work on the nuclear plant expansion project.
Councilman Kamau Macharia said “I am concerned about this. It’s a $10 million project and has economic development but I still don’t see folks getting jobs. When we vote to give a big corporation a lot of money, we would like to see an impact economically for folks in the county to get these kinds of jobs.”
Councilman chairman David Ferguson said he and county administrator Philip Hinely met with the Shaw group and with SCANA early in the planning processes. When the men followed up the first time and expressed concerns about local unemployment, the companies said they would be sensitive to that issue, according to Ferguson.
“Years ago, we kind of gave our word that the county would do this (expansion) but we have to send a strong message that they need to try and be more sensitive to the needs of the community,” Ferguson said.
He mentioned that one way the company is helping is through efforts to create a new health clinic in Jenkinsville. He said that another meeting be set up with SCANA and top Shaw officials to remind them of what was asked for and agreed upon during the early stages of planning.
“I don’t know if we have gotten all the cooperation we talked about in the initial meetings,” Ferguson said. “I know some parts of the project have already started but there is a long run to this. If we can delve in and get involved, it is an advantage to us and our constituents.”
Councilman David Brown requested numbers of how many local persons are working for SCANA and of how many people have been hired this year as a result of the expansion program.
Ferguson said that records were kept by zip code of employees and that a recent one year count tracking persons who applied for jobs with Shaw and SCANA showed a high denial rate for a variety of reasons.
One area of optimism involves improving the quality of work force through training at Midlands Technical College both in the Columbia and Fairfield campuses.
Vice chairman Dwayne Perry said that there are challenges to getting unemployed persons or job seekers to participate in the education programs.
“I think we knew going in that we could control the control-ables such as having a facility to train potential employees but there are challenges to being employed at a nuclear site,” Perry said.
Legal records for nonviolent crimes disqualify potential workers, some of whom may have committed the crime in their youth and had no further run-ins with the law.
Having those records expunged remains a key effort in helping with the jobless rate, and not just for nuclear workers.
Workers in law enforcement or workers applying for jobs at a bank also would be denied the opportunity if they had a criminal record.
Brown focused on the positives the expansion would bring with it. He said that by hiring the best of the best, a local hire would then open up another desirable job for someone else to fill at another company.
“That effect has maybe more impact that it is given credit for,” Brown said.
Councilman Mikel Trapp also requested numbers from Midlands Tech about the number of students applying for specialized training.
Ferguson said that a hindrance to the county had been that the technical college system had not always been an acceptable training entity for the nuclear plant to train employees.
He said that the tide is turning in that regard as the technical programming located in Winnsboro and Columbia gains stature.
“These are good turnaround efforts to get to a place where we can get this trend turned around. Sometimes good intentions fall by the wayside and we need to draw persons attention back to it,” Ferguson said.
Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson acknowledged the change in procedures and the need for education about how one could go about expunging one’s record.
In other items discussed at county council:
• Several residents expressed concern about the state of bridges in the county particularly the Hope Road bridge. Rodney Chandler, a forester in Ridgeway, who has property nearby told the council of numerous problems with litter, trespassing and even a suspected arson due to the road coming to a dead end where the bridge is out.
Bob White said he and a group of environmental stewards and hunters were looking for a way that the land could better be taken care of. White said he personally would remove the gates at which time the county decided to re-open the bridge. Retired game warden, Anthony Walker, joined with White and Chandler is asking for help to fix the Hope Road bridge.
Ferguson empathized with the men’s concerns over the bridge but pointed out that a number of bridges are in need of repair in the county.
Brown asked if there were some way legally that the council could temporarily shut down the road. He was informed that precedent from a case years ago in Jenkinsville stated that the county could not maintain locked property.
One concern is the detour emergency vehicles or residents of the Hope Bridge Road area would have to use to reach Winnsboro during an emergency.
Ferguson asked Hinely to look into the matter further and do what is fair for the residents while keeping in mind that so many bridges are already out in the county.
“Our bridges need fixing and are not getting any better. At some point we’ve got to look at one way access (caused by bridges going out). So far, we have been ‘fortunate’ because there has been more than one way to get to (an affected area),” said Ferguson.
He said in the past that to replace a bridge like the Hope Road bridge one would cost around $650,000. It would be an expensive undertaking.
• The council also heard from a nonprofit group that perhaps could provide assistance to Fairfield County and the council considered a new appointment to the aeronautics board.
• County council went into executive session but no action was taken afterwards. The council received legal advice during the session.