Horry County Councilman Bob Grabowski’s heart is in the right place when it comes to wanting to clean up the mound of dirt and small trees in drains along roadsides in his district.
But fellow councilmen have denied his request to use his county expense account funds to clean state highway roadsides, particularly S.C. 707 near Enterprise Road, because they fear it will set a precedent.
A state transportation official vowed Friday to look at S.C. 707 after The Sun News’ inquiry.
Grabowski said the shrubbery has been there so long it has thickened.
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“Also, the ponding of water that can’t flow down these drains fast enough because it’s being stopped by these dirt piles,” Grabowski said. “[S.C. Department of Transportation’s] response is always the same: ‘We’ll get to it. We don’t have the funding.’ So I was trying to find a way where the county can just do it. Of course, the county said we don’t have the money to do it, it’s not our responsibility, it’s the state’s responsibility.”
So Grabowski looked at his travel expense account he has with the county and wanted to make a difference with it rather than use it for travel expenses.
“There’s money in there I haven’t used and it’s accumulating, so I figured let’s see if I can transfer some of that money to the county to get this work done,” Grabowski said.
County Attorney Arrigo Carotti said the only way to free that money is by vote of the full County Council, but before any resolution gets to council, it must go through committee. That’s where it is stalled.
Anne Wright, finance director for the county, said the issue was brought before the infrastructure and regulation committee meeting on Sept. 29 and then again to the administration committee earlier this month.
“There was a concern about safety if this work was to be done by county staff because the county staff is not accustomed to working in high-traffic areas,” Wright said. “There was a concern that this would be setting a precedent because the county staff would be doing work that should be done by the state.”
Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said there are similar road problems throughout the county.
“It is a problem, there’s no question about it. It’s so bad that when it rains, the gutters fill up with trash and they don’t drain the roads properly . . .,” Lazarus said. “We’re starting to go down a very slippery slope here. This is travel money and I don’t know if we could really allocate it if we wanted to . . . We need to figure another way to do it.”
Steve Gosnell, assistant administrator for infrastructure and regulation, said the state is more than willing to let the county clean its roads.
“That’s part of the staff concerns is that DOT will allow us to do whatever we want to do as far as cleaning up their roads,” Gosnell said.
Ray George, district maintenance engineer for SCDOT, said the state schedules the cleaning of debris from curb and gutter sections as well as along barrier walls. George said most of the municipalities in Horry County clean the curb and gutter sections within their limits.
“Roadway cleaning in the unincorporated areas is done by our in-house maintenance forces and is typically performed annually,” George said in an email response. “However, schedules are adjusted and at times the frequency is reduced depending upon the amount of outstanding work and the availability of funds. We also spray herbicides along most curb and gutter sections each year to eliminate vegetation growth, and we respond to requests to clean specific sections of roadway.”
George said the state has received 21 requests to clean various sections of roadway in Horry County since October 2013. He said four of those requests were outstanding as of Friday. Of the four outstanding requests, three are for different sections of S.C. 544, and one is for a section of U.S. 701 near Coastal Monument.
George said an engineer in the Conway office planned to look at the condition of S.C. 707 “and compare it to the outstanding requests in order to prioritize all of them for completion.”
George said there is no specific budget for curb and gutter or barrier wall cleaning. He said each of the state’s county maintenance units have an operating budget to maintain state roads.
Use of the funds range from pothole patching and mowing to “ less predictable” expenses, such as snow and ice removal.
“When unexpected expenses occur, non-safety related activities are generally deferred or the amount of planned work for these activities is reduced so the budget is not exceeded,” George said in the email.
In Horry County, the maintenance operating budget has remained relatively flat over the past few years, while costs have increased, he said. The maintenance operating budget in fiscal year 2010-11 was $2,819,450, and the operating budget for the current fiscal year is $2,818,495, according to George.
Grabowski said he didn’t like having to turn to his travel expense money for the cleanup.
“I don’t like it,” Grabowski said. “It’s a bad precedent to set, but they’ve kind of backed me in a corner. It’s got to get done. One way or another, it absolutely has to get done.”