COLUMBIA --- Employees at the Barnwell low-level nuclear-waste storage site have had eight years to get used to the idea that their facility would be downsized.
On July 1, the site will stop collecting nuclear waste from the nation.
"In the immediate future, we have gainful employment and work that needs to be done," said Jim Latham, the site's vice president of operations. "In the long run, there will be reductions. We've been up front with them."
Mr. Latham declined to estimate how many of the site's 50 employees could lose their jobs. He said some will retire or seek positions within EnergySolutions, the parent company to Chem-Nuclear Systems LLC, which runs the Barnwell site.
"I think we'll be in pretty good shape," Mr. Latham said.
But can the same be said for county coffers?
Government officials have yet to decide how to make up for the $2 million in surcharges collected annually from the utilities that send nuclear waste into Barnwell County.
The county has received the surcharges since 2001, with about half going to the school system and the other half going into the general fund of the county, which has a budget of about $12 million.
With the downsizing coming, local officials have been bracing for an immediate fiscal blow.
But South Carolina Director of Energy John Clark says that impact is at least a year off.
"Next year they will most definitely get $2 million," Mr. Clark said. "There will probably be some excess revenues the following year, but as a conservative estimate, it may be $1 million."
And after that?
Probably nothing, Mr. Clark said.
Last year, a bill to push back the 2008 deadline was defeated in the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee.
"We had been trying and hoping it would be extended," Rep. Lonnie Hosey, D-Barnwell, said of the proposal to delay closures from the Atlantic Compact until 2023.
"It left us without good plans," he said.
Barnwell County Councilman Keith Sloan acknowledged they have no strategy to lessen the fiscal impact of the reduction, but that's not for lack of trying.
"We have worked very, very diligently to bring in industries," said Mr. Sloan, pointing to a $135 million investment from Kronotex flooring company, which made Barnwell its national headquarters.
"There's no sense of panic," he said. "You keep on going."
Meanwhile, officials are discussing ways to expand rail service, leverage port access and facilitate truck traffic to woo development.
"Barnwell is located in a remote area," Mr. Hosey said. "If we can build a corridor to Jasper County from upstate, we're hoping to widen 278 for more traffic. That would provide for industries that are seeking to expand to take a serious look at what we have to offer."
Danny Black, the president and chief executive officer for SouthernCarolina Regional Development Alliance, pointed to the region's infrastructure.
"We've got to help those companies coming in with a user-friendly corridor for shipping," he said. "That has been something we have not emphasized in the past that we are going to do now."
NOT GOING TO TAKE IT
On July 1, the site will stop collecting nuclear waste from the nation. Instead of accepting waste from 37 states, it will accept from just three: South Carolina, New Jersey and Connecticut. The reduction is the result of the Atlantic Compact, which state lawmakers approved in 2000.
-- Morris News Service