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The Lake Marion Regional Water System continues to grow as a reliable source of water in rural areas looking to improve quality of life and expand development opportunities.

On Monday, officials gathered in Dorchester County to break ground for the latest expansion, which will supply water from Lake Marion to areas between Harleyville and Ridgeville. It is the sixth water transmission project made possible by a collaboration involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Marion Regional Water Agency and Santee Cooper.

Since the Lake Marion water plant was completed a decade ago, towns being served include Santee, Elloree, Holly Hill and Harleyville. The goal is to continue growth.

But there is concern.

A key player in the water project is the South Carolina Public Service, better known as Santee Cooper, one of the nation’s largest publicly owned utilities. The owner of the manmade lakes Marion and Moultrie, Santee Cooper was created more than a half-century ago to bring growth and development to rural counties by supplying electricity. Water was and is a logical extension of the mission.

But will the mission continue if South Carolina leaders decide to sell Santee Cooper in an effort to recoup money paid by customers of the utility and the electric cooperatives it serves for a failed nuclear reactor project in Fairfield County? Santee Cooper is a partner in that project with SCANA Corp., parent company of S.C. Electric & Gas Co.

With the primary focus on Santee Cooper as a power provider and suitors likely being big power producers, it is unknown what would happen with Santee Cooper’s other missions.

While Santee Cooper leadership takes no official position on possible sale, saying the decision is up to South Carolina leaders, the utility via the most recent edition of its magazine POWERSOURCE is pointing out that is does more than supply electricity. Some highlights of the article titled “Powering South Carolina: Jobs and Prosperity”:

• Santee Cooper has worked with the state’s electric cooperatives to secure more than $14 billion in economic development, including projects such as the Volvo plant under construction in Berkeley County and Nucor Steel in the 1990s.

“Our loans, grants, other incentives and facilities have supported industrial recruitment in all 46 counties of the state. Governors, members of Congress and other state leaders have turned to Santee Cooper time and again to help with a project.”

• “Santee Cooper is no stranger to growing the Lowcountry economy. Perhaps one of our most important contributions came in the wake of plans to close the Charleston Navy Base and shipyard. We helped create the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, which still works today to strengthen regional employment and prosperity by recruiting leading global corporations, talent and entrepreneurs.”

• “Industry needs reliable water as well, and Santee Cooper operates two wholesale water systems on Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion. At the ribbon-cutting for the Lake Marion system, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn noted the tremendous benefit the water treatment plant would provide to communities along Interstate 95 that need reliable, clean and safe drinking water.”

• “Santee Cooper’s economic development incentives programs, however, are probably where we have made our great impact beyond the Lowcountry.”

In conjunction with the electric cooperatives, Santee Cooper announced in 2007 grants to help certify industrial sites, provide professional development and scholarships for economic development personnel, and support economic development strategic planning at the local level.

“A few years later, we upped our investment in South Carolina significantly through new loan and grant programs, which have contributed more than $110 million to build industrial speculative buildings, help develop two inland ports, and provide site readiness and closing funds statewide. More than $80 million of that total is in loans, with the rest provided through our grant programs.”

While much of the focus at the Statehouse now is on SCANA and a proposed sale of that utility, the future of Santee Cooper is a related topic sure to reach the front burner.

Just as the governor and lawmakers must look at the big picture beyond customers paying for the failed nuclear project with regard to SCANA, the same applies with Santee Cooper. The state owns Santee Cooper and must be cognizant of the multiple roles it plays.

In the words of Johnnie Wright, Orangeburg County Council chairman and chairman of the Lake Marion water agency, "I hope and pray the state does not (sell). …That is an asset that is ours. If we could keep that, it would be in our best interest.”


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