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Year-old SC state agency has yet to act on mission of helping rural areas

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011

AIKEN, S.C. -- James Preacher is the director of Public Works in Wagener, S.C.

"It's terrible. It's more than tough, it's terrible," he said of the economy.

But he says it's even tougher to be the director of Public Works in a small town right now -- especially in a town like Wagener, where old water pipes are getting older and bursting.

"I patch and pray. I put a patch on it and hope it doesn't leak anymore," he said.

He says the tricky part is finding money to replace them.

"People don't realize that it's expensive to replace the water line. $500,000 redoes about 9,000 feet of water line," he said.

That's why he is definitely interested in a bill passed last year aimed at helping small towns like his.

"It's the Rural Infrastructure Act. It's a bill that will assist small, underdeveloped counties," said Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, who was the primary author of the bill.

It's now law in the state after receiving bipartisan support.

It is supposed to create a committee that would select and finance infrastructure projects in rural areas around the state. Now, the Rural Infrastructure Authority waits with a large chunk of change to dole out.

"Instead of the $13 million, now, we have approximately $29 million," Clyburn said.

But now, a year later, that $29 million waits for a board to be formed. Politicians in Columbia, like Gov. Nikki Haley and House Speaker Bobby Harrell, among others, have to appoint the members first. Meanwhile, Clyburn grows impatient.

"A lot of people are concerned about it, and I am too. We just need to move it now, get this economy back on track and move forward like we know how to do," he told News 12.

He hopes to hear back from them in the next few days and Preacher hopes the ball will start rolling soon, too.

"Oh, I'd love it. I'd love it," he said.

He'd love it, because he says they definitely need to update their aging infrastructure in the town of Wagener. He says a company looking to open a facility and bring jobs wouldn't be considering Wagener right now. That's why having a good infrastructure is so important.

South Carolina Rural Infrastructure Act, H4511

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