PSI: Landowners question 'Pennies for Progress'

CLOVER, SC (WBTV) - Rusty Mobley lives on the outskirts of Clover, South Carolina.

"We have a few chickens, two hogs," said Mobley as he sat on old tractor. "This is home."

It has been for generations.

"You don't hear a lot of noise except for this back here," said Mobley.

Right behind Mobley's property is the mostly empty West Gate Industrial Park.

"They built the road right here and this has turned into a trash dump," said Mobley.

You'll find tires, beer cans and worse.

"Gunshots, people back here shooting don't realize there's a house right through the woods," said Mobley. "That makes me nervous."

Now, Mobley and his neighbors are worried about a new road. York County has a plan to cut a path past the industrial park connecting Highway 321 to Barrett Road and then to Highway 55. Landowners in the area say they had no idea it was coming.

"I have never been contacted," said WJ Miller.

Their land was being offered up as part of the county's long-running "Pennies for Progress" program. York County has had voter-approval to collect a one cent sales tax for the past 14 years. The tens of millions of dollars collected has been spent on improving infrastructure around the county.

"We reached out to them (property owners) early on," said program manager Phil Leazer.

Don't tell that to landowner Mac Johnson.

"Hadn't anybody (sic) ever called me about nothing," said Johnson.

"The only contact between me and them (county planners) and the engineering department has been going to see them," said Miller.

Miller and others says the communication only started by chance.

"I read it in the paper before the vote on 'Pennies for Progress'," said Mobley.

Leazer did admit it was how some got the news before the county voters passed the "Pennies for Progress" referendum.

"The newspapers picked it up," said Leazer. "I think that's when some of these property owners became aware of the projects."

The "Pennies for Progress" program says on its website it takes "project requests from citizens." Property owners, where the new extension would run, say they did not request it. They say they don't who did.

"When we try to run it down," said homeowner Steve Tarte. "We can't get any answers."

Leazer says the list of projects was put together after a series of community meetings. He says the new road was put forward by a conglomerate of people.

The West Gate Industrial Park, which right now has only three businesses in it, is owned by York County Natural Gas Authority. A spokesperson for the gas authority says the company didn't ask for the extension, but Leazer says economic growth was a factor for putting the extension on the list. He says the other issue was truck traffic. Leaders wanted to get it out of both a nearby neighborhood and downtown Clover.

Homeowners in the neighborhood closest to the industrial park did ask for some help getting semis of their streets where kids play. They asked for signs, designating a truck route. They wanted the semis pointed away from their homes and towards the highway. The county decided against it. As for truck traffic through town?

"Nobody has shown me any studies on it to show that there's so much truck traffic back over here that they need to funnel it out and come this way," said Miller.

There's a reason Miller, or anyone else hasn't seen a traffic study. It hasn't been done.

Leazer says state law requires them to put each project on the ballot. He says they have to create the list without spending a lot of upfront money on studies.

"We have to go out and do kind of just a quick assessment of what these issues are what the public has brought forward to us," said Leazer.

He says studies, like traffic counts and environmental impacts are about to begin.

"If we come out here and the traffic numbers don't show up then we're not going to do it," said Leazer.

It'll take a few months to complete all the work and whatever happens Leazer said there will be plenty of communication.

"I can handle the truth," said Tarte. "It's good news, bad news, whatever, but let us know what's going on."

As for the trash that's been dumped in the empty areas of West Gate Industrial Park. The York County Natural Gas Authority has cut deep ditches to keep vehicles from being able to get into the wooded areas. The company has also put up new no trespassing signs.

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