Live 5 News: Satirical Facebook post brings attention to Fort Johnson renovation

JAMES ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) – A Facebook post got a lot of attention after making false claims about the Fort Johnson and May Forest renovation project.

The post, which was created on Friday, got over 400 comments from upset and confused residents. It was created by the group “Charleston Municipality,” they made claims that the project is about international shipping and passenger cruise ships. They said on Saturday in a statement that “the post was obviously very satirical.”

State Representative Spencer Wetmore says seeing the Facebook post and reactions from the public was heartbreaking.

“This is a project that we were really proud of,” Wetmore says. “I sort of understood the assignment here that people do not want to see a whole bunch of new development. People are concerned about flooding or concerned about traffic. To me, I certainly don’t want to see a bunch of houses and development there either. The people that made this post are obviously playing on people’s fears of that.”

Read the full article from Live 5 News.

The Post and Courier: Securitization can cut SC ratepayer costs for coal plant closures too

An April 4 editorial in The Post and Courier highlighted an ongoing debate in the General Assembly about Duke Energy saving its ratepayers millions through a practice called securitization.

The core of the debate is not whether we should help utility monopolies such as Duke Energy and Dominion Energy save ratepayers money, but how much. Securitization is basically refinancing debt and lowering electric bills for ratepayers. A number of states, including Florida and North Carolina, have given utilities the ability to reduce ratepayer costs for such as expenses as storm cleanups and early retirement of dirty and expensive coal plants by using securitization.

Duke told senators that taking up both storm costs and coal retirement is too complex for this legislative session. Fortunately, I’ve already introduced a bill with bipartisan support, H.5162, that has resolved these complexities, giving our state the option of using securitization to reduce costs for ratepayers for storm cleanup and early retirement of coal plants. Not allowing the securitization of coal retirement costs essentially short-changes ratepayers out of major, long-term savings.

Beyond saving millions for ratepayers, this is a crucial early step in our conversation about a transition to renewable energy. After all, relying on expensive coal is driving greenhouse gas emissions, which, in turn, drive more frequent and extreme hurricanes. The more hurricanes that hit our state, the more storm recovery costs Duke and Dominion will incur and pass along to ratepayers. Instead of putting a Band-Aid on the problem, we should be looking to address the root cause and make it cheaper and easier to transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable and affordable energy sources.

Transitioning to clean energy has the added bonus of creating jobs of the future here in the United States and moving us away from a global fossil fuel market, where the price of oil and gas are determined by events overseas. Unless we become energy independent and generate our own clean energy, we’ll continue to depend on oil from countries like Russia and will continue to see energy bills and gasoline prices take their toll on our wallets.

South Carolina should close outdated, inefficient coal plants and transition to more clean energy technologies such as solar and wind. In the meantime, let’s use the accounting tools at our fingertips to reduce as much of the cost burdens on customers as we can. H.5162 starts the conversation about this clean energy transition and does it in a ratepayer-friendly way.

Let’s not leave millions in ratepayer savings on the table by securitizing only storm cleanup. We can all also support lower electric bills and a clean energy future, and I hope that Duke and my colleagues in the House will join me in this approach.

Read opinion article from The Post and Courier

P&C: Keep momentum flowing to clean up James Island Creek

Given the balkanized nature of local governments on James Island, it would have been easy for them to point fingers at one another regarding who should tackle the costly and complicated problem of addressing high contamination levels in James Island Creek. Instead, the opposite has happened, and we urge the city and county of Charleston, the town of James Island, public utilities and others to maintain their cooperation until the creek finally is clean.

The James Island Creek Task Force is poised to begin its second year of a five-year testing plan to learn more about the potential sources of contamination, which is crucial to addressing them. Old and failing septic tanks in the suburban neighborhoods along the creek, also known as Ellis Creek to some locals, seem to be the primary reason it is a dicey place to swim or fish.

The group received good news recently as state Rep. Spencer Wetmore helped secure $1 million in the state budget that the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control will hold for future pollution cleanup along the creek, and the governments hope to secure millions more to help hook up homes on septic tanks to existing or extended sewer lines. The South Carolina Infrastructure Investment Program has about $900 million in federal COVID recovery dollars that it plans to grant to efforts to improve water, wastewater and stormwater systems across the state.

The city, county and town are sharing the cost of ongoing testing, which will cost up to $67,000 (from about $50,000 this year), but the extra cost will involve new sampling points to identify problem spots. That information should help utilities identify which fixes could bring the biggest bang for the buck.

Meanwhile, the town of James Island approved a new septic tank ordinance that provides a free inspection for the roughly 400 homes on septic systems that are both in the town and near the creek. The ordinance also requires regular inspections of household septic systems every three years, but the town expects to enforce that requirement only when a problem emerges with one of them. (DHEC permits septic systems but essentially leaves it up to local governments to police them.)

Charleston City Council should follow through with its own ordinance. It is drafting one patterned after Folly Beach’s ordinance, which requires a septic tank inspection prior to the sale of any property; copies must be provided to any occupant, to the property owner and to the city, which notes that a property owner is responsible for ensuring that the septic system is operating effectively. Council members could begin by making the ordinance applicable only to the few dozen city properties on septic near the creek, where there’s a known problem, then expand it citywide if it works well.

The town also tried an innovative step to reduce bacteria levels by creating more than a dozen pet waste stations along residential streets near the creek. Each station has a dedicated can, emptied regularly by the James Island Public Service District, and plastic bags for pet waste are monitored and replenished by a neighborhood volunteer.

At this point there are still unknowns, regarding not only the pace of those changes but also whether other factors, such as birds and wildlife, also are increasing the creek’s bacterial counts. But if additional studies confirm septic tanks are the greatest problem, and if the James Island Creek Task Force’s members can secure the millions of dollars to help hook up homes with failed systems to sewer lines, and if new laws prompt homeowners to better maintain the few septic systems that remain, the creek could get a cleaner bill of health in just a few years.

Time will tell if that’s possible, but everyone should keep working together to try to make it so.

Read the article from The Post and Courier.

Holy City Sinner: Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Spotlights Rep. Spencer Wetmore

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) has announced that State Representative Spencer Wetmore (D-Charleston) has been named a Spotlight candidate. The DLCC said that candidates who receive a spotlight “displayed extraordinary leadership while fighting for their communities.”

“It’s an honor to be recognized for my work to protect our coast and expand access to affordable housing and healthcare,” Wetmore said. “Now, more than ever, we need leaders focused on finding solutions as our state and country grapple with the spike in gun violence, rising prices, and climate change. I’ll continue to work and reach across the aisle to get things done for our community and South Carolina as a whole.”

Wetmore was first elected in 2020 during a special election, flipping a district won by Trump in 2016. In her first term as a state legislator, Wetmore successfully passed two bills, a rare feat for a freshman lawmaker. She also delivered the Democratic response to Gov. McMaster’s 2022 State of the State address in January.

“Democratic state legislators are on the frontlines defending and expanding our access to health care, education funding, abortion access, and the right to vote,” said DLCC President Jessica Post. “During the Trump administration, the DLCC and state Democrats flipped hundreds of seats from red to blue, elected strong candidates from all across the country, and returned over half a dozen chambers to Democratic control. We are proud to stand with Representative Wetmore and include her in our growing list of amazing candidates who are committed to making a difference in their communities.”

The race for Wetmore’s seat (District 115) will be one of the most closely contested elections in South Carolina, a high priority target for both Democrats and Republicans.

Read the Holy City Sinner article.

Charleston City Paper: Some Lowcountry lawmakers, candidates commit to action on gun violence. Most don’t.

In the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last Tuesday, Charleston City Paper reached out to 34 community and state leaders and candidates via email and Twitter, with one question: “What are you going to do to reduce gun violence?”

In addition to live interviews with S.C. Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, and S.C. Rep. J.A. Moore, D-Charleston, we received eight answers, including one perturbed message.

The original email, sent Thursday morning, asked for answers to be sent via email by Friday, though responses would be accepted through the weekend. When just two replies were received, we took to Twitter, from which we received another six responses, though S.C. Rep. Leon Stavrinakis’ (D-Charleston) response did not address the question at hand.

“If that’s how you are going to treat people, you can rest assured when I am ready to communicate to the public it won’t be through or in response to City Paper,” he wrote.

Below are excerpts from the responses we received from each legislator, activist and/or candidate, along with some responses taken from surveys given to candidates for the coming primary elections:

S.C. Rep. Joe Bustos (R-Charleston): “Last November, I submitted a Gang Violence and Criminal Enterprise Bill that would strengthen law enforcement and deter those who would violate our laws … Violent crime that has been on the rise for months has not been adequately addressed. The bill I submitted, unfortunately, is still in the Judiciary Committee.”

S.C. Rep. Joe Jefferson (D-Berkeley): “Gun violence has been a major concern for all of us for years. My advice to the voters, comes down to several major decisions when voting for a candidate: Ask yourself the following questions: 1. Why would I vote for a bill that would allow an 18-year-old to carry a gun where it is visibly seen? 2. Why would I not support a bill that would allow anyone the opportunity to purchase a handgun without making sure that he/she is sane enough or responsible enough to protect oneself and others?”

U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Catherine Fleming Bruce: “As a senator, I will declare gun violence a public health state of emergency. I will support requiring background checks, addressing the issue of ghost guns and placing restrictions on assault weapons. I will also support gun restrictions for those with mental health issues or who have been convicted of domestic violence, stalking or sexual harassment (boyfriend loophole), and closing the Charleston loophole.” Bruce is running in the primary to run against GOP U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.

U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Angela Geter: “I would do more than thoughts and prayers. I would actually vote for gun reform. Gun rights are no more absolute than any other rights. Did you ask this question of@LindseyGrahamSC & @votetimscott neither of whom have done much to further the debate on gun reform or gun safety?” Geter also is running in the primary to take on Scott.

S.C. Rep. Wendell G. Gilliard (D-Charleston): “Continue to fight for gun reform laws such as background checks, installing chips in guns, banning assault weapons, installing metal detectors in all schools in S.C., stiffer penalties for selling guns illegally and leaving guns around through pure negligence and for straw purchases.”

S.C. Rep. Spencer Wetmore (D-Charleston): “I have and will continue to sponsor bills and advocate for background checks, closing the Charleston loophole, required training, purchasing age and mental health and community resources. I will work towards a bipartisan bill for the 2023 session.”

S.C. Sen. Marlon Kimpson (D-Charleston): “My record is pretty clear on this. I’m the sponsor of closing the Charleston loophole in the Senate. Support tougher bond requirements for repeat violent offenders. No Republicans voted on gun reform. Work like hell to elect Democrats.”

Read the article from the Charleston City Paper.

ABC News: Lowcountry task force continues work to rid Ellis Creek of harmful bacteria

One of the Lowcountry’s popular waterways, called by locals either the James Island Creek or Ellis Creek, is getting help to fight its known bacteria problem.

On Friday, the water quality advocacy group, the Charleston Waterkeeper, released its seasonal weekly testing results. Those results say this weekend is a good time to safely swim in the creek.

Thursday night saw the James Island Town Council conditionally promise the James Island Public Service District $320,000 to switch residents living along Oak Point Road from private septic tanks to the public sewer system.

Other efforts to secure funding for similar ventures is underway.

Dave Schaeffer, the District Manager with JIPSD says, “We are begging and borrowing and stealing, cobbling together as much funding as possible so that this is grant-funded and not on the residents.”

Concerns over possibilities that the aging septic tanks along the creek are behind the recent discovery of low levels of human feces has sparked the James Island Town Council and other groups to take action.

The council recently voted on mandatory inspections for septic tanks every three years.

The Town of James Island is part of the James Island Creek Task Force, which formed in 2020. The City of Charleston, Charleston County, the Charleston Water System and the James Island Public Service District are also part of the group.

Planning stages and certain testing has taken place over the past two years. That includes a dye test done by both CWS and JIPSD throughout town and city-owned portions of the creek.

Charleston Waterkeeper’s Andrew Wunderly says results of the test “found that none of the lines that crossed the creek are leaking.”

That marks off the sewer system as a possible bacterial factor.

That leads back to septic tanks being a potential source, “because even a properly functioning septic tank in a coastal environment can be causing pollution,” Wunderly said.

The James Island Creek Task Force has hired a contractor to continually test the waters. Results from the fall of 2021 showed a variety of results including some human, dog and bird feces.

Levels of certain bacteria were highest by Folly Road Bridge and lower by Harbor View Road. Different factors were also taken into consideration.

Despite the good news overall, Wunderly wants folks who use the creek to keep in mind, “the state actually lists James Island Creek, or Ellis Creek as some folks call it, as impaired.”

Heavy rains can turn a good round of results from one week into a danger zone the next.

Both Schaeffer and Wunderly are happy with the ongoing work of the task force. Schaeffer says JIPSD will reach out to other organizations next week, including the Charleston Water System, for funding help.

Schaeffer and State Rep. Spencer Wetmore (D – Charleston) both confirm that the South Carolina House of Representative’s budget proposal contains a request for a $1 million earmark specifically to help clean up the creek.

Wunderly says the timing couldn’t be better.

“There’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity right now to get this issue fixed and make this creek safe for kids, so they can come here and paddle and swim and crab and enjoy the creek for all that it has to offer,” Wunderly said.

Read the article from ABC News 4.

Spencer Wetmore Named Joseph Neal Elected Official of the Year

“The Joseph Neal Elected Official of the Year Award is given to an elected official in South Carolina of any level. Honoring an elected official that has put in a lot of work in South Carolina for the Democratic Party.

[Spencer’s] primary focus as Administrator has been legislation, beach nourishment, resilience and disaster response, personnel, and budget management.

We are so proud of the work Representative Wetmore doest to benefit all South Carolinians, but are specifically pleased with how she represents the values of Young Democrats of South Carolina in Columbia.”

-The Young Democrats of South Carolina

P&C: Folly Beach Democrat to Deliver Party Message

Democratic state Rep. Spencer Wetmore of Folly Beach will deliver the party’s response to Republican Gov. Henry McMaster’s State of the State address on Jan. 19.

“Our policies under the governor’s leadership have relied too much on fear and division,” she said in a media statement from House Democrats. “It’s time we take action for the working families of south Carolina instead of paying lip service to extremist politics…

Read more of Rep. Wetmore’s statement in the Post and Courier.