Government agencies along the Grand Strand jockeying for the much talked about bus shelters will soon find out how many of the 56 remaining shelters they will get for their communities.
May 9 is the deadline for municipalities like Myrtle Beach, Conway, Horry County and communities in Georgetown County to submit their requests to the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments who bought the shelters for pennies on the dollar that sat ignored for years.
The bus shelters are left over from a failed program that began in 2005 through a $1 million grant to Coast RTA. The shelters were purchased, piled up at Coast RTA’s Conway headquarters and put to the side as Coast officials struggled to get the proper zoning and appropriate property for the shelters. Former Coast CEO Myers Rollins, who was fired Wednesday partly because of the shelter program, asked the S.C. Department of Transportation for extension after extension through the years until the state agency pulled the plug on the program and demanded a more than $324,000 refund from money already given to the transit agency.
Mark Hoeweler, assistant executive director of the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments, said his organization was informed earlier this year that the bus shelters were going to be sold at auction, so the COG bought the shelters for $8,500 after taxes and fees. Each shelter was valued at about $4,000. The shelters will be provided to the government agencies free of charge, with the lone cost being labor.
“We purchased 56 complete shelters and there are two configurations that are missing a piece here or there,” Hoeweler said. “We’re working through [Grand Strand Area Transportation Study] and our member jurisdictions. They are working up a list of locations where they can use shelters that are on existing Coast bus routes.”
Hoeweler said this process shouldn’t be as complex as what Coast RTA had to go through with the shelters because no federal dollars were spent by the COG to buy the shelters at auction.
“That’s the easier part of this equation,” Hoeweler said. “The trouble that Coast had in getting them installed was the federal red tape, and we don’t have to follow that since they’re under our ownership and were not purchased with federal money.”
Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway said the county is prepared to install however many shelters it is awarded.
“We do have the capability and, as a matter of fact, in the past, we have offered to install those. My understanding is that there’s always been an issue with obtaining easements or permission from property owners,” he said.
Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman, said Horry County is waiting for more information before it makes its request.
“We are still waiting on some additional information, like shelter specs, installation cost... from Mark Hoeweler at GSATS before we commit to a specific number of shelters,” Bourcier said.
The city of Myrtle Beach was also unsure of the number of shelters it wants, Mayor John Rhodes said Thursday.
Hoeweler said once the requests are in, the COG will have more work to do before it awards the shelters.
“What we’re going to do is compile all the information and locations, and we’re going to check on them for suitability,” he said. “We’re going to follow the buses around and see if people are there actually waiting for a bus and then come back to the group with a recommendation on how many and where the shelters are needed based on their request.”
Hoeweler said he wanted to make sure this area had first dibs on the shelters and if there isn’t a need for all of them, the COG could always auction them.
“If we have some leftover, our initial plans are to dialogue with the two school districts to see if they could use any of the shelters and go from there and try to find a useful place for the shelters within the region,” Hoeweler said. “If we get to the end of that process and we still have shelters leftover, we can always go back out and auction what we have left.”