Fairfield County is weighing whether to sue utility SCE&G over the shutdown of a project to build to two nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville after the utility blocked county officials from assessing improvements at the site.
SCE&G shut down the nuclear project six months ago after the projected costs of building the two reactors soared from $11 billion to $14 billion to $20 billion. The shutdown put an estimated 5,000 people out of work.
Now, officials in the small rural county north of Columbia want to collect property taxes on the incomplete reactors and the land they sit on.
“They built a small city out there,” county administrator Jason Taylor said. “And that small city should be taxed.”
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But that process got off to a rocky start when SCE&G last month allowed a county tax assessor access to the site on a tour bus, but didn’t let him and his team off to take measurements or other calculations needed.
“It was a ride-around,” Taylor said. “They didn’t let us do a meaningful assessment.”
SCE&G said the assessors were kept on the bus for safety reasons.
The county had anticipated $80 million a year from fees in lieu of taxes when the two reactors were completed. Taylor’s office is filled with plans and drawings for ambitious projects the county has been working on for years.
There are plans for improving parks, beautifying neighborhoods, renovating the county’s historic courthouse, turning the old Mount Zion school into new county administrative offices and more.
But most importantly, there are plans to run water and sewer lines to the county’s new 1,200-acre industrial park mega-site on Interstate 77 – a park that county officials hope will attract a big industrial plant like Boeing in North Charleston or Giti Tires in nearby Chester.
But now, those plans are on hold as the county scrambles to find new funding, particularly for the sewer system, now that the reactor project is shut down.
“It was a kick in the gut,” said Ty Davenport, the county’s economic development director.
The county can easily run water to the 1,200-acre industrial park located along I-77 between Exits 34 and 41. But it also needs to build a $75 million sewer system.
“Water is no good if it doesn’t have somewhere to go,” Davenport said.
Taylor and Davenport have met with S.C. Department of Commerce officials about possible methods of funding the plant. Those included one-and-one meetings with Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt, a Fairfield County resident.
“They (Commerce) understand that Fairfield County has taken a huge hit,” Taylor said. “They are trying to accommodate us.”
Taxes on the incomplete reactors could fill the gap. But what they might generate is uncertain.
It’s inexcusable how SCE&G is treating Fairfield County right now
State Sen. Mike Fanning
SCE&G and the county recently voided the fee in lieu of taxes agreement as moot because the reactors aren’t to be finished. And while the utility allowed county and S.C. Department of Revenue officials to tour the plant last month, the assessment didn’t happen.
A spokeswoman for the utility said that county officials agreed to the ground rules for the visit beforehand.
“The details of the visit ... were discussed and mutually agreed to in advance by attorneys representing Fairfield County and SCE&G,” Rhonda O’Banion wrote in an email. “Safety is SCE&G’s paramount concern, and ensuring the participants’ personal safety was top priority.”
But that’s contradicted by a report by Fairfield County assessor James Roberts to assistant county administrator Davis Anderson
Roberts said he was met at the gates of the V.C. Summer plant by SCE&G staff and three attorneys and told he could not do his job.
“It was explained to me that this was basically a tour of the grounds and me and my staff could not get off the bus to measure up the improvements,” he said in the report, dated Jan. 23. “I responded we would need to get off the bus to measure and photograph improvements.”
The utility told Roberts they would consider letting the assessors return once scaffolding and other hazards at the site were removed, he wrote.
O’Banion did not respond to questions about the disparity between the two versions of events.
However, state Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, on Thursday charged the closed bus was yet another stalling tactic by the utility
“It’s just freaking amazing,” he said. “There is still (taxable) value out there. But they have not shown any good faith in working with Fairfield County. I have no faith that this is anything except another delaying tactic. Their goal is to show there is no value at the site. An assessor does not help their case.”
Fanning added both he and county officials have attempted to reach an agreement with the utility, without success, and he expected the issue to eventually go to court.
“It’s inexcusable how SCE&G is treating Fairfield County right now,” he said.