Rainy weather taxing the county’s roads | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | March 17, 2016 5:00 am
Last Updated: March 16, 2016 at 12:55 pm
By GEORGE SALSBERRY
You can’t blame for Colleton County Administrator Kevin Griffin for looking skyward with a little trepidation on his face. The county’s bottom line has been drowning.
“The county had not had a federally declared disaster in well over 20 years,” Griffin said. “But that changed in February of 2014. The county has now had two major federal disasters declaration events in less than two years.”
Colleton was among the South Carolina counties declared a federal disaster area in early in 2014 when the ice storm plummeted the county.
Griffin said that the county’s price tag for dealing with the ice storm was over $2.5 million.
The latest disaster was the flooding last October, which drenched most of the state. The price tag for that natural disaster is still being tallied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As if the flood wasn’t enough, the county followed October’s floods with months of sustained rains.
Griffin said Colleton County’s 2015 rainfall set records: a total of 75 inches of rain fell last year. In a normal year, Colleton County has 51 inches of rain.
The rain did not let up when 2016 arrived. In the last five months, Griffin reported, Colleton County has seen a total of 39 inches of rain.
October 2015 found the county trying to absorb 18.91 inches of rain. November brought another 8.30 inches of rain and December added 3.14 inches.
Colleton County entered 2016 with 3.4 inches of rain in January followed by 4.89 inches in February. Halfway through March, the county had received another three-quarters-inch of precipitation.
“Initial flooding in October had a major impact, but the sustained rains over the last six months have made it difficult for county roads crews to catch up,” Griffin said.
According to Griffin, many parts of the county, like the area around S.C. Highway 61, Neyles and Cottageville “are so saturated that water has remained standing since October and any new rain exacerbates an already tough situation.”
All the rain, he explains, is drowning the county budget.
“The county has seen a 46 percent increase county road maintenance and repair costs,” Griffin said. “Primary expenses are the repair of both roads and drainage ways that have been damaged by excessive rainfall, as well as having to maintain roads much more frequently because of the rains.
“With the amount of rainfall the county has had, every time we get another three-to-four inches of rain at one time, we basically have to start over our entire maintenance rotation.” The county maintains a total of 371.68 miles of road — 346.64 of those miles are dirt roads.
Last fiscal year, roads and bridges expenses through March 1 were $840,325. In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, expenses had already topped $1,228,083 when March started.
A normal annual budget for operations in roads and bridges is $1.9 million, Griffin said. “Projections now have us at roughly $2.4 million if we don’t get any more abnormal rain.”
Operation of the Roads and Bridges Department isn’t the only area where the county has had to absorb costs.
At the beginning of this month, county council members agreed to spend $223,028.66 to purchase a new John Deere motor grader to replace one rendered inoperable when its engine blew up while working on a rain-damaged road.
“With the trees starting to green up now,” Griffin said, “it should start to help those areas that have been completely saturated.”
“Rain has also had an impact on emergency services as well, making it hard for Colleton County Sheriff’s Office and Colleton County Fire-Rescue to locate and get to some of the homes in these areas, as well as increasing wear and tear on their vehicles and equipment,” he added.
“County departments are not designed for these extreme situations, especially back-to-back events, so it has put a lot of wear and tear on the county’s personnel and equipment. The county is ready for some extended sunshine and warm weather,” Griffin said.