Two Horry council members point out failures in incomplete project

Two Horry County Councilmen have identified “systematic failures” in Coast RTA’s management of at least one of two incomplete projects that will cost the transit at least $324,000.

One Councilman, Carl Scwartzkopf, said about the county’s more than $1 million annual investment in Coast RTA, that “With the amount of money Horry County citizens spend every year and what they get in return, if I was looking at my own personal portfolio and stock purchase, I would unload this stock so fast, my broker’s head would spin.”

Coast officials said Monday that one of the programs in question – the transit’s bus shelter program – was doomed from its beginning and not because of anything Coast did.

A committee is examining just what went wrong with a planned $1 million bus shelter program that took the S.C. Department of Transportation more than eight years to finally end last year because of lack of progress. Also at issue is Coast’s liability for part of work done for an intermodal complex that would house buses, taxis, bicycles and more. Because the preliminary work wasn’t properly bid, some money must come from the transit and it must be re-bid.

Examinations of emails, contracts, letters and resolutions show the bus shelter program was plagued with the wrong number of shelters to be built; the wrong federal agency administering the $1 million grant; an agreement made to use some shelters for use restricted to students, and a claim from local transportation officials that the grant was being administered incorrectly .

Now the committee, appointed by County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, is charged with determining if the hurdles Coast RTA has to jump are indicative of “ongoing concerns regarding the management of the agency” and if further funding from the county should be affected because of it. The committee will meet May 5 to hit a mid-May deadline imposed by Lazarus, which is on the cusp of the county deciding its budget for next year.

Coast RTA CEO Myers Rollins said the fact that a Federal Highway Administration grant was being governed by federal transportation guidelines threw the bus shelter off track from as far back as May 2005.

“We have learned that this project was contaminated from its very inception,” Rollins told the committee. “It was contaminated, we believe, notwithstanding the fact that it took a number of years, but because we learned on Nov. 4 that the wrong federal guidelines were used to craft the contract that gave us direction.”

As for why area transportation officials didn’t alert the federal government about the discrepancy, Mark Hoeweler, director of the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study who administered the grant, said it did, but no one listened.

“That conversation happened,” Hoeweler said. “The machine just kept moving ahead.”

However, County Councilman Marion Foxworth, who is chairman of the committee, said there were many mistakes after that, which caused him concern.

“Some of the mistakes are understandable, some of them beg logic, some of them I just outright question,” Foxworth said. “Every document in front of me has a different number [of shelters]. From the RTA board, from the RTA staff, from DOT. Everywhere you look there’s a different figure on every single document. That’s what was frustrating. Trying to figure out what was done, by whom and where the money went.”

Foxworth said Rollins negotiated an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Myrtle Beach in August 2006 to be supplied, installed and maintained by Coast RTA for Horry County students, and didn’t sign the contract with S.C. Department of Transportation until December, which stated the shelters must be used for the general public.

Bernard Silverman, chairman of the Coast RTA board who is also on the committee, said board members through the years thought they were abiding by the rules.

“I think we were led to believe we were doing the right thing,” Silverman said.