VANCE — A vocal crowd anxious for solutions expressed their opinions on short- and long-term solutions to ongoing flooding problems when the Horse Range Watershed Committee met May 16 at the Family and Friends Center in Vance.
“The meeting is about the problems we’ve been having,” said Lawton Brown, the committee chairman. “The problems have been going back a long time.”
Other Horse Range Watershed District board members who attended the meeting included Thomas Breland Jr., Tom Breland, George Asberry and Matt Shaw. Vance Mayor Michael Aiken, Santee Mayor Donnie Hilliard, Eutawville Mayor Jefferson Johnson and Holly Hill Mayor William Johnson also participated.
“All of this is infrastructure that we’ve got to get a handle on and get to where our lives will be better and our schools and our communities will have a chance to grow,” Brown said. “So, it’s important that we get this right and get it fixed.”
His said the committee had encountered numerous problems in maintaining and updating the infrastructure he mentioned. The committee has an annual budget of only about $20,000, which is derived from local tax measures, Brown said.
He said much of that money goes to pay contractors to mow and perform the most basic maintenance on the watershed’s main drainage canal.
Brown said the canal was built in 1973 and needs to be updated.
Other flooding problems have resulted from clogged or inadequate ditches along roadways maintained by the state or by Orangeburg County.
“All we can do (with road-related drainage problems) is make recommendations,” Brown said. “Sometimes it takes a while to get it all done.”
Some at the meeting said they fear lives could be lost waiting for all the recommended roadway maintenance to be done. A few suggested disbanding the Horse Range Watershed District and turning responsibility for maintaining the drainage system over to the county. Others countered that the county already takes too long to act on road maintenance requests and could not be trusted to take on the added responsibility.
Brown said Horse Range Watershed Committee members have been exploring other possible solutions for some time.
“In 2016, (the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources) DNR did a study about the flooding problem in our area,” he said. “The comeback on it was that the sediment ponds should be cleaned out and Lodge Hall Road should be redone.”
“Back in the 1960s, there was a pier bridge there, and we didn’t have flooding problems like we do now,” Brown added. “The highway department put tiles there and said it was for maintenance. It was easier to maintain, and that’s why they wanted to go with it.”
Unfortunately, the new system created choke points where blockages occurred more easily — resulting in bigger problems with water backing up, he said.
To address this, the committee sent letters and proposals to elected officials and regulators, Brown said. It also sought help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but FEMA proved to be no help, he said.
After conversations with committee members and scrutinizing recent flooding problems, Orangeburg County Emergency Management Director Billy Staley contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which played a major role in the original construction of the Horse Range Watershed drainage canal.
“When we sent the letter to the Army Corps, we wanted to outline a certain set of projects and a certain way to do it,” Staley said.
He said the Horse Range Watershed Basin has never been managed as a whole. Instead, local committees like the one based in Vance managed various areas within the basin. Some areas have not been managed in years, Staley said. (The whole basin extends from Highway 176 to the south and Highway 6 to the north and from Santee in the west to Cross in the east.)
Staley said he spent a year assembling a proposal that would lay out a plan for the entire Horse Range Basin.
“When we approached the Army Corps and asked them to come to the table, they wanted to approach the watershed as a whole,” he said. “(The corps’ view is) that you can’t make changes in one part of the watershed without it affecting another part of the watershed and you can’t be effective across the whole watershed unless you plan it as one holistic idea.”
The proposal encompasses:
- Renovating and deepening the Horse Range District Drainage Canal near Vance. The canal would be extended to serve all towns in the basin.
- Redigging and reopening the Sandy Run Branch near Eutawville. (The branch was originally dug by local farmers in the 1960s, but was later abandoned.) A proposed second phase would run along Gardensgate Road to Area Lane and eventually turn south with water ultimately flowing into Dean Swamp.
- Expanding capacity around Holly Hill. The proposal for the Holly Hill area includes cleaning and deepening the existing Holly Hill canal, digging and installing a new canal north of town and enlarging Home Branch and the sediment pond there.
- Extending the Horse Range Canal to serve Santee. Lateral ditches could then be put in place to ease the drainage to property along Old Highway Number 6.
Staley said a meeting with Army Corps officials is scheduled in June.
“The approach is take the information (in this proposal). Study the region. Tell us what needs to happen overall. Tell us how to fix it so we’re not causing problems for others,” he said.
Staley said when the Army Corps of Engineers recommends its flood control solutions, local officials can apply to the corps to help fund the projects. The project list can also be presented to state legislators as justification for future funding requests, he said.
Frustrated residents remained impatient, wanting a faster fix. At times, the discussion focused more on who was to blame for the problem than on how it could be fixed.
“We don’t need to be pushing who’s responsible,” Orangeburg County Council Chairman Chairman Johnnie Wright said. “Regardless of who is, if we need to fix the problem, we fix the problem.”