Today's editorial notes that there are limits to what government should do to assist local folks unhappy about utility construction projects:
Should government ask more of utility companies that install necessary facilities near residential areas? Yes, with an asterisk.
This issue is hot right now because two utilities, the Grand Strand Water & Sewer Authority and the Horry Electric Cooperative, need to install new infrastructure near fast-growing residential areas. The construction -- the water tower in process near The Farm subdivision in Carolina Forest and an electrical substation to be built near the Wynbrooke subdivision -- would benefit these new residents.
The authority is building the water tower on International Drive to ensure that residents of nearby subdivisions have adequate water pressure at peak usage times. The cooperative wants to build the substation to ensure that the new subdivisions in the Collins Creek area of southern Horry County have enough power for peak usage times.
But some new residents don't appreciate the utilities' efforts in their behalf, for an understandable reason: Water towers and electric substations are not exactly things of beauty.
The water tower looms over the houses in The Farm located closest to International Drive. Residents say they had no idea the tower would affect their views until construction began recently.
Horry Electric has not begun construction of its substation but has approval to do so. Wynbrooke residents are upset that it will be located at S.C. 707 and Tournament Boulevard - right in their lines of sight.
In both cases, residents want someone to "do something" to restore their diminished expectations of an idyllic new life in coastal South Carolina. But were some level of government to stop the projects, their expectations would be diminished in other ways - trickles from faucets in the case of The Farm and neighboring subdivisions, and periodic electric brownouts and blackouts in the case of Wynbrooke and adjoining subdivisions.
Government should ensure that residents know what new infrastructure is coming and that it be as visually unintrusive as possible. Here's the asterisk: Government, however, must not alter utilities' ability to construct such facilities.
State law does not require utility companies to go through a formal public-review process if their projects receive approval from a state agency - as happened with both the water tower and electric substation. That law needs modification to ensure that residents affected by a project are informed about its effects - positive and negative.
County Council, meanwhile, should require utilities to include buffers, such as trees or berms, in their infrastructure projects. Such a rule would not materially add to such projects' costs. Utilities can and should shield their facilities from the views of nearby residents - to the extent possible.
Beyond those changes, however, residents should have no recourse against the utilities. Water towers, electric substations, sewage lift stations and other infrastructure have to go somewhere near the homes they're built to serve or else they won't work. Such construction works ultimately to residents' benefit.