A Single Basket of Eggs

Fairfield County’s treasure chest is balanced precariously atop a one-legged stool, with the fiscal fate of the County dependent almost entirely upon the future of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station and the construction of two new reactors currently under way there. With some $20 million in tax dollars flowing into County coffers annually from SCE&G, the station’s operators and primary owners, it is terrifying to imagine what might become of Fairfield should the nuclear plant ever cease to operate. And while additional funds from the two new reactors are four or five years from making it onto the books, one can bet that our various local government entities have already made detailed plans on how to spend them.

But plans are just that: temporary outlines subject to change – a wish list, as it were – and last week’s revelation that at least one key portion of construction at the plant had come to a halt drove the point home that, at present, all of the County’s future fiscal eggs are rattling around inside one nuclear basket. We should also not overlook the affect this delay has had on individual workers at the site. According to the Shaw Group, 140 of their employees were laid off right before Christmas. And that’s no one’s idea of a happy holiday.

Although the Shaw Group says the layoff was simply part of the natural start-and-stop process inherent in any construction project, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says otherwise. According to the NRC, work was suspended when questions surfaced about a deviation from the original design of the basemat (the concrete base on which much of the nuclear materials will rest). It may take several months, the NRC says, before the matter is resolved. The burning question, meanwhile, is why the deviation was allowed in the first place, particularly when the NRC has inspectors on the ground at V.C. Summer overseeing the construction. Why none of them said, “Hey, you might not want to do this,” is a lingering mystery.

In spite of the delay, it is unlikely that the design deviation will derail completely the entire project. What the delay does do, and what it should do, is make County Council think long and hard about diversifying its tax base. While construction at the County’s new industrial park is certainly an effort to accomplish that, the County still has to overcome one minor hurdle in making that park a reality: Water supply. The Town of Winnsboro simply does not have the capacity to feed water to the new industrial park. What is encouraging on this front, however, is news that the County and the Town are working together to cut a deal with the City of Columbia for additional water.

For a pair of local government bodies that have, for so long, been at odds over nearly everything, perhaps 2013 will be the Year of the United Front. The citizens of Fairfield County could certainly stand it.

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