SC’s smallest state park born from state’s largest organization bust | Columbia News

COLUMBIA — A 27-acre island close to the northeastern corner of Lake Murray that for years was a private location of South Carolina Electric &amp Gas employees will come to be the very first new state park in two decades. And also the smallest — barely.

Lined with a sandy shore and scattered with trees, Pine Island’s edge appears out at Lake Murray’s irregular shoreline and 50,000 acres of water. 

The island’s serene place 20 miles west of Columbia belies its tumultuous ties to a $9 billion SCE&ampG nuclear plant expansion debacle that ended in a stack of lawsuits and criminal charges against executives and became extensively deemed the state’s most highly-priced organization failure.

Pine Island is one particular of 4 properties that Dominion Power, which purchased SCE&ampG’s parent enterprise in the wake of the fiasco, will transfer to the S.C. Division of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to enable spend off hundreds of millions in back-owed taxes as a outcome of the failed V.C. Summer season nuclear plant expansion.

Dominion is gearing up to transfer the properties in late March, and PRT hopes to have some of the properties, which includes Pine Island, operating as state parks by the finish of the year, state officials mentioned. Pine Island is currently outfitted with benches, beaches and a marina, so the house will be rapid to open as soon as it is turned more than to the state, PRT officials mentioned.

When Pine Island opens, it will be the very first park that the state has opened since H. Cooper Black Memorial park opened in Chesterfield County in 2006. 

Some in the Columbia region see the new park as a terrific prospective asset to the neighborhood.

“When we moved right here 20 years ago, we could not think there wasn’t a fantastic spot (on Lake Murray) that was open to the public,” mentioned state Rep. Jay Kilmartin, R-Columbia. “It would be terrific to have a spot.”

But Pine Island’s neighbors stay unconvinced that the island, accessible by boat and a causeway, can deal with a bigger volume of visitors that a state park could draw. They have threatened legal action if the park is disruptive.

“It was just staff,” mentioned Rick Levitan, whose neighborhood is practically subsequent door, about these coming to Pine Island. “Now, it really is the planet. I do not know how you (open a state park) with no some operational situations.”

The Pine Island park’s rewards will outweigh its challenges, mentioned Paul McCormack, PRT’s director of the state park service. 

“Pine Island delivers access to the lake,” he mentioned. ‘”A lot of shoreline is private homes, particularly (closer to Columbia). This delivers a public recreation chance for men and women who can not necessarily afford to reside on the water.”

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Neighbors worry traffic to and from a new state park on Lake Murray’s Pine Island could clog the roads on weekends. John A. Carlos II/Unique to The Post and Courier

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In the 1960s, South Carolina Electric &amp Gas, which operated Lake Murray, set up Pine Island as a club for its staff and their households. Through the summer season months, staff took to the island to swim, play tennis and volleyball, and host cookouts. 

The visitors to and from Pine Islands on weekends could clog the roads when use was restricted to SCE&ampG staff, neighbors of the island have mentioned. That is why they count on the challenge to get worse when Pine Island opens to the public.

The actions toward Pine Island becoming a state park started in 2008 when SCE&ampG broke ground on an expansion of its V.C. Summer season nuclear plant in Fairfield County.

As the project started, SCE&ampG struck a deal with the state Division of Income. The utility and its contractors could invest in components with no paying the state’s 7 % sales tax. Most of the taxes would be forgiven when the two new reactors went on line.

That under no circumstances occurred.

Following practically a decade of expense overruns and schedule delays, SCE&ampG known as it quits on the V.C. Summer season expansion in 2017. The cancellation led to criminal fraud charges against the company’s executives and prompted ratepayers, shareholders, economic regulators and municipalities to sue the utility. 

On top of that, state officials started calculating how significantly SCE&ampG had spent on components, and how significantly the Cayce-primarily based utility owed in taxes. 

In 2019, Virginia-primarily based Dominion Power purchased out SCE&ampG. A year later, the Virginia-primarily based enterprise closed the Pine Island Club. 

Meanwhile, the state tax agency and Dominion settled on a $165 million bill for unpaid taxes from the unfinished nuclear plant expansion in 2021.

Not all of the owed taxes would be paid in money. 

As aspect of the settlement, Dominion and the state agreed that the utility would turn more than much more than two,900 acres of land in 3 counties, significantly of which was utilized like Pine Island for enterprise staff and their households to get pleasure from. The properties accounted for much more than one particular-third of the owed $165 million.

Even though state officials acknowledged that they seldom accept land in lieu of money, the parks agency is taking the chance to add to its 47 state parks.

“It really is been fascinating for all of us,” McCormack mentioned. “We’re going to be jumping from the 47 (parks) we have to 53 in fairly brief order, and every of them has their personal distinctive challenges.”

Opening a state park

As a aspect of the deal, South Carolina will take ownership of Pine Island and Bundrick Island, a 94-acre house also on Lake Murray Misty Lake, a 190-acre house in North Augusta and Ramsey Grove, a two,600-acre, historic plantation on the Black River in Georgetown County.

Pine Island will finish the reign of South Carolina’s existing smallest state park, the 35-acre Colleton State Park ten miles north of Walterboro along the Edisto River.

Dormant because 2020, Pine Island is dotted with unused picnic tables. The faucets in its weathered buildings spurt dirty water from unused pipes.

Regardless of years of not becoming utilized, South Carolina officials say it will be straightforward to launch as a state park. Pine Island is “fairly turnkey, as far as it becoming a state park,” PRT spokeswoman Sam Queen mentioned.

The island is currently outfitted with a marina, boat ramp, parking lot and picnic tables, as properly as an onsite residence for the park manager and an occasion space that can be rented. 

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Picnic regions on Lake Murray’s Pine Island on March 15, 2023. John A. Carlos II/Unique to The Post and Courier

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With the island’s much more intimate setting comes the challenge of managing capacity on the island, McCormick mentioned.

When choosing land from the list that Dominion supplied, PRT chose properties that McCormack mentioned “have extremely distinctive cultural or organic resource worth that we do not at present have representation in the state park service.”

Whether or not the parks will attract guests from beyond the nearby sphere is the second aspect of the equation, he mentioned.

Transferring the two Lake Murray web pages from Dominion to the state has taken some time mainly because, as a hydroelectric reservoir, the Federal Power Regulatory Commission has oversight of the lake, Dominion spokeswoman Rhonda O’Banion mentioned. Dominion necessary FERC’s approval for the land transfer, which was granted in November.

Following PRT requires handle of the land, it will begin by assessing the situation of the internet site and infrastructure demands, McCormack mentioned.

“After you make a decision what you have to have to do and how you have to have to do it, you have to safe the funding to develop the infrastructure that you have to have in spot,” McCormack mentioned.

In the case of Pine Island, incredibly tiny operate is necessary, he mentioned.

“For some, we’ll do a complete-blown master strategy, and for other individuals, we’ll do a internet site assessment and we’ll do internal operational preparing if there is currently improvement on the internet site,” McCormack mentioned.

Elsewhere, PRT plans to open Ramsey Grove as a canoe and kayak launch to the Black River when the park there opens, but will add a visitor center and campsites later, just after much more preparing. 

SC to get 3 new state parks out of Dominion's VC Summer tax dispute

Balancing act

Not every person is thrilled at the state’s plans for its new parks. 

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The waters of Lake Murray outline Pine Island on March 15, 2023. John A. Carlos II/Unique to The Post and Courier

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Having to Pine Island calls for winding and narrow residential roads, raising alarms with neighbors who be concerned that visitors to and from the state park will present security dangers and enormous headaches.

Opponents have written letters to PRT, legislators, FERC and Gov. Henry McMaster asking for tighter regulations to be placed on the island, neighbor Stewart Mungo mentioned. In July, dozens of outraged neighbors gathered on Pine Island with parks leaders and demanded PRT’s options to managing visitors and security on and about the island.

“We do not have a challenge with it becoming state park, but we assume it really should have (parking) reservations, so that men and women are not just coming via the neighborhood, checking it out and then there is nowhere to park and turn about,” Levitan mentioned. “But we have not heard something from SCPRT.”

PRT has corresponded with frustrated residents via mail and in a neighborhood meeting final summer season, Queen mentioned.

“We’ve been as responsive as doable, but till the deed transfers there just hasn’t been significantly to report,” she mentioned. “We will strategy to host an additional public meeting just before the park opens.”

If the park poses a visitors or disturbance problem for the neighbors, some strategy to file an injunction, Levitan mentioned. 

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Waterfowl flies more than Lake Murray’s Pine Island on March 15, 2023. John A. Carlos II/Unique to The Post and Courier

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In addressing the pushback on the park, PRT plans to operate with nearby law enforcement for visitors handle, and has began functioning with a consultant to conduct a visitors study on the roads surrounding the island, Queen mentioned.

PRT is contemplating installing indicators on significant roads to indicate when the park reaches capacity to limit unnecessary visitors on residential roads, McCormack mentioned. PRT does not know Pine Island’s precise capacity however, but does not count on much more visitors than the island saw when it was privately operated, Queen mentioned.

“I do know that the roads to that island are in terrible shape and there is not a lot of infrastructure to deal with all these guests in that neighborhood,” Kilmartin mentioned “But I’d like to go go to the park … so I hope they handle that actually properly.”

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