There was a slow exodus at the Broad River Campgound near the V.C Summer Nuclear Station Monday as scores of construction workers who live in travel-trailers there began pulling up stakes and heading home.
“Some will leave today. Some will leave tomorrow. Some will leave next week,” said D Melton, who owns the campground. “This is going to be devastating.”
The workers are some of the estimated 5,000 people who until Monday were building two reactors at the Summer nuclear site near this Fairfield County town. On Monday, SCE&G and Santee Cooper announced plans to abandon the project because of escalating costs and because the main contractor, Westinghouse, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.
At Gill’s 5 to 10 convenience store and grill, which is the closest store or restaurant within miles of the Summer site, an impromptu wake broke out Monday afternoon. Dozens of construction workers lingered in the parking lot, most wearing fluorescent green or orange shirts denoting their respective job sites.
They drank beer and commiserated.
“Blame this all on Westinghouse,” one said.
None of the dozen or so workers interviewed would give their names because of documents signed when they were hired that said they could not talk to the news media, they said.
The workers said they were notified about 1:30 p.m. Monday that the project was shutting down. Those on shift were told to drop their tools, turn in their identification badges and leave.
“They just told us to go,” said one worker who drank a beer behind Gill’s. “So here we are.”
Inside Gill’s, owner Aradhna Kumar was fretting.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said, noting that she purchased the store just two years ago on the promise of a long construction project and, after that, employment at two new reactors. The site has an existing reactor.
About half of Kumar’s customers work at the construction site, she said.. “I haven’t had time to think about it. Am I going to have to lay off my employees?”
Back at the Broad River campground, Melton said he was formulating plans to turn it into a recreational campground.
“It’s a nice place and we are pretty close to the interstates,” said Melton, who opened the campground in 2010 and pulled in about $35,000 a month from the 120 or so workers who lived there.
“I paid him $24,000 in three years,” one worker from North Carolina said.
The vast majority of workers, however, own homes, rent houses or apartments or live in extended stay hotels, Melton said.
He added that most of the out-of-state workers who lived in his campground are highly skilled laborers who can pick up and head to the next job. It’s the local workers, who tended to provide more menial labor, that will have trouble in the transition.
“There was a lot of crying today,” he said. “Even the supervisors were crying.”