Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Givin' the Golden Shovels a Workout

The golden shovels, the ones we use for ceremonial groundbreakings that normally live in a dusty storage room at the municipal center which reminds me a bit of that warehouse that they wheel the Ark of the Covenant into at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie, are getting a real workout lately. In the past few months we have busted sod on a new industrial park, scratched the surface for a 100,000 square foot development ready pad, moved dirt for a new road, and pounded on the concrete for the next phase of downtown streetscape efforts.

We have no plans to put the golden shovels away either. I suspect you will see them in July as we break ground on a public private partnership to develop a speculative building on the interstate in our continued effort to lure jobs to our city. I think you will see them at our first trails and greenway project along Millers Fork Creek, and at a second park project at the property donated to our community for public use by the Sterlite Corporation. Private investment in our city is on the rise as well. Expansions and renovations at Presbyterian College, a new restaurant by the interstate, investment in updating other businesses near exits 54 and 52, and new construction along Jacobs Highway for retail are all underway or in the planning stage.

The public projects that are happening right now are only possible because of the partnerships that have been formed between your city, other organizations, and private investors. Five utility providers, the city, the county, two economic development corporations, the South Carolina Department of Commerce, and the Upstate Alliance, as well as two private investors have played a role in making these projects a reality. It is an unprecedented level of partnering for progress in our city.

These many partners are able to work together because we all took the time over the past two years to plan together. When we developed our economic development strategic plan we did it with citizens, business owners, industries, the schools, county leaders, city leaders, college leaders, and economic developers. The projects we are undertaking now, including the future discussions of joining the National Main Street program to support creating a better environment for small businesses to thrive, were not ideas developed behind closed doors by a select few individuals but came instead directly from the citizens in the form of their candid comments through the National Citizen Survey and the Economic Development Needs Survey.

You spoke and said that you want a better looking city. You spoke and said that you want us to focus on economic development. You spoke and said that you want a better downtown. You spoke and said that you want Clinton to become a great place to be in business. You spoke and said that you want Clinton to be a great place to live. You spoke. We listened. We are taking action.

We have to be realistic in our expectations. None of these projects guarantee an easy or better future for any of us. However, we know what get if we keep doing what we have been doing.  Yes, we are taking a large gamble with the hopes that these projects will lead to growth in jobs and a better quality of life in our community. We are betting on this place and the people that live here, and I think that is a pretty safe bet.

Let's Talk About Zika

Summer is here. It’s time for backyard bar-b-ques, baseball, and outdoor activities. The last thing you want at any of those events is a hoard of blood sucking creatures. I’m not talking about the zombies of AMC’s hit Walking Dead TV show – I’m talking about mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are more than just a passing nuisance. Mosquitoes are a disease vector, meaning that a bite from a mosquito infected with certain viruses can spread disease among a community. Zika, West Nile, and Chikungunya are all diseases that have been in the news lately that can be transmitted by a bite from an infected mosquito.

I hesitated to write this column because I didn’t want to contribute to panic regarding mosquitoes, and the simple fact is that the chances of contracting a mosquito born disease are very small. You’ve got a better chance of being in a car wreck or getting hit by lightning than getting a mosquito born disease.

However, it is very important that we take steps to control the mosquito population so that the risk of disease transmission remains low, and that’s where the Department of Public Works steps in. Each summer, the Department of Public Works uses a special truck to spray neighborhoods and streets with a chemical to control mosquitos. The chemical has to come into contact with the mosquito in order to kill the insect, so spraying is done in the early evening when mosquitos are most active.

Mosquito spraying is actually the least effective way of controlling a mosquito population. The most effective way is to control the areas where mosquitos breed so that there are no new mosquitos. Mosquitoes need small bodies of water to breed and anything that can hold water around your house could be breeding ground for mosquitoes. An empty flower pot with rainwater in it, a child’s toy that catches the water, gutters that are not cleaned out, an old tarp, an old tire, the cover on a swimming pool, a kiddie pool left out in the yard over the winter – all of these can trap or hold water and all of them can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Scientists tell us that mosquitoes are old home bodies – they don’t travel very far from where they were born. If you have a mosquito problem at your home, then the chances are very good that somewhere on your property or on your neighbor’s property there is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Take some time early this summer to look and see if you might be the person in your neighborhood that is allowing mosquitoes to breed on your property. Please clean your gutters and throw out old containers or tip them over so the water doesn’t collect inside of them. Keep the pool cover clean and dry and store those kiddie pools on their sides so that the water runs out of them.

Because of heightened concern in our state over mosquito born illnesses, like Zika, our Code Enforcement and public works personnel will take extra steps this year to address the mosquito issue. They will be enforcing codes related to property cleanliness and investigating mosquito complaints to locate the breeding sites and work with homeowners or businesses to address those sites. The City will do its part, and we hope that you will do yours, so that together we can keep those little flying blood suckers under control and have a safe an d enjoyable summer.

Movin' Dirt

Springtime in Clinton is wonderful. It starts when that one tree in front of the Dowdle – Mays cottage at Thornwell turns pink and cumulates in an explosion of azalea blooms, dogwood petals, heirloom daffodils, and new green leaves on the trees that line our streets. Walking through neighborhoods there is an unmistakable smell of spring which is a mixture of flowery perfumes, bbq gills being exercised for the first time after a long winter in storage, and the smell of fresh dirt as early spring flowers and vegetables go into the ground.

Out by exit 54 on the interstate the smell of fresh dirt being turned over is overpowering as bulldozers churn away grading the site of a new Zaxby’s. Before the first construction comes out of the ground, the momentum has already attracted additional prospective businesses who we met with at the site last week to discuss how doing business in Clinton would be a smart investment.

Dirt is on the move in Lydia Mill as well. The Laurens County Water And Sewer Commission, which manages the sewer service in the Lydia Mill community, is working to replace and rehabilitate sewer lines in the neighborhood using a community development block grant from the SoutH Carolina Department of Commerce.

Dirt is about to be on the move at the I-26 Commerce Park on the interstate. Thanks to a grant and some city economic development funds, the city will grade a 100,000 square foot development ready pad to lure future business. After the dirt is moved and the dust clears the site will look to you and me like just any other open field, but to a potential manufacturer it looks like land that they can start building on immediately. This means the company can avoid the costs associated with reviewing and testing the site, and the time and money needed to grade the land out for future construction. It will be the first time we have done a project like that in our city, but for the most part new manufacturing facilities that are locating in our region are locating in places where the infrastructure is in place, the land has been graded, or an existing building is in place and ready for occupancy. It’s time to start making our community competitive instead of just waiting for lady luck to drop jobs in our lap.

Dirt is about to be on the move in downtown as well. The next phase of our downtown streetscape efforts will get under way this summer with new sidewalks, landscaping, and some new signage along Broad Street and Main Street. Making our downtown a nice place to shop and do business means we have to make it an aesthetically pleasing place to be. In the recent survey of citizens conducted as part of our strategic planning effort, one area that the citizens told us to work on was the appearance of the built environment and public spaces in our city, and this next phase of streetscape addresses one of the most visible parts of our community.

There are also big projects in the planning stages as well, including the development of better parks and recreation services, improving the look of the gateways into our city, additional developments and improvements along West Corporate Center Drive, Clinton Corporate Park III, and the I26 Commerce Park. It’s all part of a concerted effort to make Clinton a great place to business, a competitive community, and to make our city a great place to live.

If you are like me, spring brings on seasonal allergies and discomfort as the pollen rains down from the trees and coats every surface in a fine green powder. These springtime efforts in our community will not be without challenges. You might have to sit in traffic on Broad Street a little longer this summer as we make improvements, and it might take time before additional growth happens in the I-26 Commerce Park. However, planting the seeds for a better Clinton for tomorrow will be worth the inconveniences of today.

I believe this is our spring. We have prepared and struggled through the winter. Now, like gardeners, we move dirt and lay seeds that we hope, with the right conditions, will blossom and bear fruit. Like all springs, there will be things that make us uncomfortable like pollen and the occasional frightening severe thunderstorm, but the rain will clear, the pollen will blow away, and we will grow and move forward as long as we are prudent and careful and thoughtful in our efforts.

Water: Flint vs. Clinton

If you’ve watched the news, read a newspaper, or looked at a news website lately then you’ve likely heard of a city in Michigan that has a water problem. Flint, Michigan, was founded in 1855, three years after the City of Clinton was incorporated for the first time. A city of over 100,000 citizens, with a motto of “Strong, Proud”, and the original home of General Motors, it has been in the news over the past decades due to economic hardship, financial failure, high crime, and now the water is poison.

The government of the City of Flint was trying to do a good thing and save its citizens money by switching from receiving its water from the City of Detroit to treating its own water drawn from the Flint River. The Flint River, like many rivers in our country, contains chemicals that if not treated correctly can become corrosive. In Flint, the corrosive agents in the water caused lead in old water pipes to leach out into the water. If proper anticorrosive agents had been used, the problem may never have occurred.

There are certain services that we, as a city, provide, that are basic promises to you that we have an obligation to keep. One of those promises is that when the water leaves our system and enters your home it will be safe. You should be able to trust the tap.

It’s natural, after seeing the news stories, to wonder about your tap water. Is it safe? Should my children drink it? What’s really in my water? Could what’s happening in Flint happen here?

If you are a City of Clinton water customer then your drinking water comes from the Enoree River. Before the water comes out of your faucet, it goes through a process that is designed specifically to filter the water, treat it, and make it safe to drink. Each day, our Department of Public Works treats up to three million gallons of water from the Enoree River and sends it out into the distribution system where it is used in businesses, restaurants, and homes for cleaning, cooking, and drinking.

Twenty-four hours a day every day certified water treatment plant operators on the city staff monitor the water quality and distribution system in a lab located inside our treatment plant. The water is tested at every step in the treatment process to make sure that the treatment effort is making water that is clean and pure for your use. Our treatment process is also adjusted as needed to make sure that no matter what happens to the water coming into the plant it leaves the plant crystal clear.

As part of our ongoing commitment to you, the results of our water tests are published each year and you can find them on our website. If you take the time to review the water quality report, you’ll see that the City of Clinton is required to test for a variety of possible contaminates in the water and that the city’s water hasn’t violated any of the state or federal requirements for water quality. In fact, most tests show that our water is cleaner than required by the state and federal regulatory agencies.

We are committed to providing the best water possible to you and your family. That’s why we monitor it around the clock. However, the challenges that we face in providing quality water to you are growing. Ageing infrastructure and old pipes can sometimes result in cloudy water, but a new unidirectional flushing system being employed by the Department of Public Works & Utilities should help alleviate that problem in areas where it occurs. The exploding growth in the upstate increases the amount of runoff and contaminates that can be found in the Enoree River. The river may not be able to provide enough water to our community when our community grows.

Rest assured however, that as we continue to look for solutions to those challenges, we will continue to make providing water that meets or exceeds health requirements a top priority. It’s a promise we make to you, and one that we intend to keep.