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Answers not the point of Pioneer town hall - UpstateToday.com

Answers not the point of Pioneer town hall

Posted on April 19, 2017

Pioneer Rural Water District deserves credit for what it did Monday — cooking hot dogs, inviting customers and media out and answering questions about the water treatment plant its board voted to bond for $19 million earlier this year.

The trouble is, it waited to do so until after the cities of Seneca and Westminster and Oconee County filed legal action to stop the plant, until after a bill was filed in Columbia to put checks and balances on Pioneer’s ability to build one … and most importantly, until after construction had started.

As we hope you read on today’s front page, Pioneer general manager Terry Pruitt admitted the district fast-tracked the process — applying for permits and bonding the project before the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff completed a review as required by state law.

Pioneer also started grading prior to securing a building permit from the county. It accused county council Monday of illegally withholding the permit, but that’s just not true. The truth is the county weighed the option, but didn’t pursue it after the county attorney determined it had no legal standing to do so.

Pioneer claims stopping the plant’s construction would be “wasteful and unfair.” But from where we sit it seems like, had it followed the process laid out by state law and waited until its permits were obtained prior to starting, all this could’ve been easily avoided.

As our reporter at Monday’s meeting asked questions about the project, someone in the audience accused him of being “a plant.” The truth is he was just doing his job — asking things we had been trying to get answers to for weeks.

But answering questions wasn’t the point of Monday’s meeting. After all, this thing is now in the hands of the courts.

No, the meeting was aimed at a specific target — convincing its customers that Rep. Bill Sandifer is the real culprit, turning voters against him and hopefully getting him to back off by accusing him of “leading the charge to keep your water rates high.”

That’s the wording of a pamphlet Pioneer handed out with a tear-away postcard — with Sandifer’s home address — with the following message: “I’m tired of paying high rates so Seneca and Westminster can pad their budgets.”

But surely no one believes that’s what’s actually happening here. If that were true, why would Pioneer have refused to go back to the negotiating table with Seneca after it offered a long-term contract back in 2011? And why would it have refused again when Westminster tried to offer the same?

Pioneer also accused Sandifer of trying to take away the customer’s “right to vote for my water directors.” But the board hasn’t had a contested election in years, and no one at Pioneer even seemed able to explain how the election process worked.

Sandifer is only trying to do what he feels is in the best interest of his constituents. Remember, he didn’t introduce this latest legislation until after Pioneer attempted to circumvent the process Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law in 2012.

Pruitt is right about one thing: It’s not Pioneer’s function to subsidize the budgets of Seneca and Westminster.

But it’s also not Pioneer’s function to build a plant if it can reasonably obtain water elsewhere. That’s state law.

It seems Pioneer attempting to cut corners to push the plant through before anyone took notice — and then being downright unwilling to answer questions once they did — is what was wasteful and unfair.