Columbia Real Estate Update as of 12-08-2011
Here is the latest Columbia SC News and Business Report as of 12-08-11. For real estate information visit our web site.
DEC. 8, 2011
Committee finds Haley’s office didn’t influence DHEC decision
By Matt Tomsic
The governor’s office did not influence the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s decision to approve a permit for Georgia, the state Senate Medical Affairs Committee determined today.
After questioning members of Gov. Nikki Haley’s staff for roughly three hours, the committee approved a motion 7-3 to write a letter saying it investigated DHEC’s decision and didn’t find that Haley or her staff influenced the board.
Sens. Phillip Shoopman, Kevin Bryant, Shane Martin, Ralph Anderson, Michael Fair, Harvey Peeler and David Thomas voted for the motion. Sens. John Scott, Bradley Hutto and Joel Lourie voted against the motion. Sens. Clementa Pinckney and Daniel Verdin abstained.
Lourie said he didn’t see the need for more hearings unless new information comes forward, though he didn’t support the motion.
“There may not be a smoking gun,” Lourie said. “But there is a lot of gun smoke.”
The issue started the day Haley spoke to DHEC chairman Allen Amsler about Georgia’s request to have the board hear its case for its water permit.
“I don’t think we can undervalue the impact of that request,” Lourie said.
Without the request, DHEC would not have had the hearing and would not have issued the permit.
“I think that was a tragic mistake,” Lourie said of the permit.
Hutto said some of the revelations from the hearings concern him.
Actions speak for themselves, he said, and when Haley interjected herself into the permit process, “that said something.”
Hutto also said DHEC staff dropped its alternatives for the project, reversed its decision, didn’t record its new position and presented it to the board within hours on Nov. 10, the day DHEC granted the permit to Georgia.
Lawmakers criticized the decision, which some say will give Savannah a competitive advantage over the Port of Charleston while it tries to deepen its own port beyond 45 feet.
Part of the criticism comes from comments she made in Charleston last year when she said: “Georgia has had their way with us for way too long, and I don’t have the patience to let it happen anymore.”
The senators quizzed Tim Pearson, chief of staff; Ted Pitts, deputy chief of staff; Swati Patel, chief legal counsel; and Katherine Veldran, a legislative liaison, about their roles in DHEC’s decision. Lawmakers focused most of their questions about an Atlanta fundraiser and the Jasper port project on Pearson and Pitts.
Hutto, a lawmaker from Orangeburg, said he found the fundraiser’s timing odd, along with its host: McKenna Long & Aldridge, a law firm that handles Georgia Ports Authority business and that has a senior partner who is a former chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority.
Lourie, a lawmaker from Columbia, expressed similar concerns, saying the vice chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority attended the fundraiser. Lourie also said a former attorney at the law firm is now Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s chief legal counsel.
Pearson said one person at the fundraiser asked a question about the ports, but he didn’t remember the man’s name or affiliation. He said Haley didn’t talk about the Savannah port project at that time. Her answers to port questions were “largely generic,” Pearson said.
He said Haley’s campaign staff arranged the fundraiser in June, when Haley was first asked to attend one in Atlanta.
Hutto said the who, what, when and where of the fundraiser raised questions.
“All of that adds suspicion to this process,” he said. “Maybe there is nothing there, but it raises concerns.”
Lawmakers also questioned the staff about what they described as a flurry of emails from the governor’s office about the Jasper port project after DHEC granted the water permit to Georgia. The two states are partnering to develop a port on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River.
Hutto said some could conclude that negotiations about the Jasper project were held hostage or on hold until the Savannah deepening project was addressed.
Pitts said nothing was traded for Haley to ask DHEC to hear Georgia’s case for the water permit.
Pearson said Georgia did not indicate it would move forward with Jasper only after South Carolina moved forward with Savannah.
Haley criticized the hearings as being politically driven by state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, her gubernatorial opponent, an anonymous email and a he-said, she-said conversation in a bar.
Haley said the hearing affirmed what her office had been saying: That it didn’t influence the board’s decision.
“They got up there and told the truth,” Haley said of her staff.
Haley said while the legislature whined about DHEC’s decision, her office made an opportunity of it and obtained letters from Georgia politicians who pledged support for the Port of Charleston’s harbor deepening project.
Haley said the one thing that gives her pause is how she will be able to change the “old guard.”
“This state deserves better,” she said.
Reach Matt Tomsic at 843-849-3144.
The Daily Report is published by the Columbia Regional Business Report,
a publication of SC Biz News.
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