COLUMBIA — A 27-acre island close to the northeastern corner of Lake Murray that for years was a private location of South Carolina Electric &amp Gas employees will turn into the 1st new state park in two decades. And also the smallest — barely.

Lined with a sandy shore and scattered with trees, Pine Island’s edge appears out at Lake Murray’s irregular shoreline and 50,000 acres of water. 

The island’s serene place 20 miles west of Columbia belies its tumultuous ties to a $9 billion SCE&ampG nuclear plant expansion debacle that ended in a stack of lawsuits and criminal charges against executives and became extensively regarded as the state’s most highly-priced small business failure.

Pine Island is a single of 4 properties that Dominion Power, which purchased SCE&ampG’s parent firm in the wake of the fiasco, will transfer to the S.C. Division of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to assistance spend off hundreds of millions in back-owed taxes as a outcome of the failed V.C. Summer time nuclear plant expansion.

Dominion is gearing up to transfer the properties in late March, and PRT hopes to have some of the properties, such as Pine Island, operating as state parks by the finish of the year, state officials stated. Pine Island is currently outfitted with benches, beaches and a marina, so the house will be swift to open after it is turned more than to the state, PRT officials stated.

When Pine Island opens, it will be the 1st park that the state has opened since H. Cooper Black Memorial park opened in Chesterfield County in 2006. 

Some in the Columbia region see the new park as a fantastic prospective asset to the neighborhood.

“When we moved right here 20 years ago, we could not think there wasn’t a excellent location (on Lake Murray) that was open to the public,” stated state Rep. Jay Kilmartin, R-Columbia. “It would be fantastic to have a spot.”

But Pine Island’s neighbors stay unconvinced that the island, accessible by boat and a causeway, can deal with a bigger volume of targeted traffic that a state park could draw. They have threatened legal action if the park is disruptive.

“It was just workers,” stated Rick Levitan, whose neighborhood is practically subsequent door, about these coming to Pine Island. “Now, it really is the globe. I do not know how you (open a state park) without the need of some operational circumstances.”

The Pine Island park’s added benefits will outweigh its challenges, stated Paul McCormack, PRT’s director of the state park service. 

“Pine Island supplies access to the lake,” he stated. ‘”A lot of shoreline is private homes, particularly (closer to Columbia). This supplies a public recreation chance for folks who cannot necessarily afford to reside on the water.”

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Neighbors worry traffic to and from a new state park on Lake Murray’s Pine Island could clog the roads on weekends. John A. Carlos II/Specific to The Post and Courier

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In the 1960s, South Carolina Electric &amp Gas, which operated Lake Murray, set up Pine Island as a club for its workers and their households. Throughout the summer time months, workers took to the island to swim, play tennis and volleyball, and host cookouts. 

The targeted traffic to and from Pine Islands on weekends could clog the roads when use was restricted to SCE&ampG workers, neighbors of the island have stated. That is why they anticipate the dilemma to get worse when Pine Island opens to the public.

The measures toward Pine Island becoming a state park started in 2008 when SCE&ampG broke ground on an expansion of its V.C. Summer time nuclear plant in Fairfield County.

As the project started, SCE&ampG struck a deal with the state Division of Income. The utility and its contractors could get components without the need of paying the state’s 7 % sales tax. Most of the taxes would be forgiven when the two new reactors went on the internet.

That in no way occurred.

Immediately after practically a decade of expense overruns and schedule delays, SCE&ampG known as it quits on the V.C. Summer time expansion in 2017. The cancellation led to criminal fraud charges against the company’s executives and prompted ratepayers, shareholders, economic regulators and municipalities to sue the utility. 

Also, state officials started calculating how considerably SCE&ampG had spent on components, and how considerably the Cayce-primarily based utility owed in taxes. 

In 2019, Virginia-primarily based Dominion Power purchased out SCE&ampG. A year later, the Virginia-primarily based firm closed the Pine Island Club. 

Meanwhile, the state tax agency and Dominion settled on a $165 million bill for unpaid taxes from the unfinished nuclear plant expansion in 2021.

Not all of the owed taxes would be paid in money. 

As element of the settlement, Dominion and the state agreed that the utility would turn more than much more than two,900 acres of land in 3 counties, considerably of which was employed like Pine Island for firm workers and their households to delight in. The properties accounted for much more than a single-third of the owed $165 million.

Even though state officials acknowledged that they hardly ever accept land in lieu of money, the parks agency is taking the chance to add to its 47 state parks.

“It really is been fascinating for all of us,” McCormack stated. “We’re going to be jumping from the 47 (parks) we have to 53 in quite quick order, and every single of them has their personal exclusive challenges.”

Opening a state park

As a element of the deal, South Carolina will take ownership of Pine Island and Bundrick Island, a 94-acre house also on Lake Murray Misty Lake, a 190-acre house in North Augusta and Ramsey Grove, a two,600-acre, historic plantation on the Black River in Georgetown County.

Pine Island will finish the reign of South Carolina’s present smallest state park, the 35-acre Colleton State Park ten miles north of Walterboro along the Edisto River.

Dormant given that 2020, Pine Island is dotted with unused picnic tables. The faucets in its weathered buildings spurt dirty water from unused pipes.

In spite of years of not becoming employed, South Carolina officials say it will be effortless to launch as a state park. Pine Island is “quite turnkey, as far as it becoming a state park,” PRT spokeswoman Sam Queen stated.

The island is currently outfitted with a marina, boat ramp, parking lot and picnic tables, as nicely as an onsite residence for the park manager and an occasion space that can be rented. 

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Picnic regions on Lake Murray’s Pine Island on March 15, 2023. John A. Carlos II/Specific to The Post and Courier

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With the island’s much more intimate setting comes the challenge of managing capacity on the island, McCormick stated.

When deciding on land from the list that Dominion presented, PRT chose properties that McCormack stated “have extremely exclusive cultural or organic resource worth that we do not presently have representation in the state park service.”

No matter if the parks will attract guests from beyond the regional sphere is the second element of the equation, he stated.

Transferring the two Lake Murray internet sites from Dominion to the state has taken some time mainly because, as a hydroelectric reservoir, the Federal Power Regulatory Commission has oversight of the lake, Dominion spokeswoman Rhonda O’Banion stated. Dominion necessary FERC’s approval for the land transfer, which was granted in November.

Immediately after PRT requires handle of the land, it will begin by assessing the situation of the web page and infrastructure requirements, McCormack stated.

“When you determine what you will need to do and how you will need to do it, you have to safe the funding to create the infrastructure that you will need in location,” McCormack stated.

In the case of Pine Island, quite tiny perform is necessary, he stated.

“For some, we’ll do a complete-blown master program, and for other folks, we’ll do a web page assessment and we’ll do internal operational organizing if there is currently improvement on the web page,” McCormack stated.

Elsewhere, PRT plans to open Ramsey Grove as a canoe and kayak launch to the Black River when the park there opens, but will add a visitor center and campsites later, immediately after much more organizing. 

SC to get 3 new state parks out of Dominion's VC Summer tax dispute

Balancing act

Not absolutely everyone is thrilled at the state’s plans for its new parks. 

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The waters of Lake Murray outline Pine Island on March 15, 2023. John A. Carlos II/Specific to The Post and Courier

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Receiving to Pine Island needs winding and narrow residential roads, raising alarms with neighbors who be concerned that targeted traffic to and from the state park will present security dangers and enormous headaches.

Opponents have written letters to PRT, legislators, FERC and Gov. Henry McMaster asking for tighter regulations to be placed on the island, neighbor Stewart Mungo stated. In July, dozens of outraged neighbors gathered on Pine Island with parks leaders and demanded PRT’s options to managing targeted traffic and security on and about the island.

“We do not have a dilemma with it becoming state park, but we feel it should really have (parking) reservations, so that folks are not just coming by means of the neighborhood, checking it out and then there is nowhere to park and turn about,” Levitan stated. “But we have not heard something from SCPRT.”

PRT has corresponded with frustrated residents by means of mail and in a neighborhood meeting final summer time, Queen stated.

“We’ve been as responsive as probable, but till the deed transfers there just hasn’t been considerably to report,” she stated. “We will program to host yet another public meeting just before the park opens.”

If the park poses a targeted traffic or disturbance problem for the neighbors, some program to file an injunction, Levitan stated. 

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Waterfowl flies more than Lake Murray’s Pine Island on March 15, 2023. John A. Carlos II/Specific to The Post and Courier

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In addressing the pushback on the park, PRT plans to perform with regional law enforcement for targeted traffic handle, and has began operating with a consultant to conduct a targeted traffic study on the roads surrounding the island, Queen stated.

PRT is thinking about installing indicators on main roads to indicate when the park reaches capacity to limit unnecessary targeted traffic on residential roads, McCormack stated. PRT does not know Pine Island’s precise capacity but, but does not anticipate much more targeted traffic than the island saw when it was privately operated, Queen stated.

“I do know that the roads to that island are in terrible shape and there is not a lot of infrastructure to deal with all these guests in that neighborhood,” Kilmartin stated “But I’d enjoy to go go to the park … so I hope they handle that actually nicely.”

By Editor