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May 7, 2014

Richland finalizes work to seek private firm to manage road program, debates permit related to Cook’s Mountain

Construction of 15 greenway projects will be overseen by Richland County’s transportation program manager.

Construction of 15 greenway projects will be overseen by Richland County’s transportation program manager.

County Council killed a bid by Councilman Kelvin Washington on Tuesday to remove $80 million in trails, sidewalks and bikeways from the county’s pending management contract.

Washington wanted to hire a second management firm to handle all projects except roads. His idea was to guarantee that the job go to a local firm, ensuring that 25 percent of the money from the county’s transportation program stay in Richland County, he said.

But council – taking the final vote on documents related to a private-sector management contract – was beset by worries that Washington’s plan may not be allowable or might make the county ineligible for federal funds for the pedestrian projects.

The debate consumed much of the council’s 51/2-hour meeting.

In the end, Washington’s proposal was defeated on a 10-1 vote.

The decision ensures the county stays on track to release documents Thursday, soliciting firms to manage its $1.07 billion transportation improvement program.

This is the county’s second go-round on the requests for qualifications. The first contract ended in a protest in January.

A second lengthy issue was a council decision whether to question a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit involving the Haile Gold Mine.

The mine’s owner is preserving land in Lower Richland to offset its environmental damage in Lancaster County in a trade-off called a mitigation bank.

The gold mine plans to transfer 3,000 acres of land, including the landmark Cook’s Mountain, to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources for preservation.

Washington was at the center of that debate, too.

He and Councilman Norman Jackson urged the council to issue strongly worded comments, outlined by the county’s conservation director, Buddy Atkins. Two residents attended to say the Department of Natural Resources has a bad track record on providing public access, too.

“This is going to turn into a country club,” Washington insisted.

But with DNR’s Bob Perry looking on, council instead softened comments to include a suggestion that DNR guarantee “fair and equitable access” to county residents once it gains ownership.

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