BARNWELL COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) — The people of Aiken, Allendale, and Barnwell Counties have lived for 70 years with the Savannah River Site in their backyard, including the old and dangerous plutonium stored there. The Department of Energy didn’t remove it in a timely manner so now they have to pay a settlement to the state for $600-million dollars. Before the check has even arrived, the fight on how that money will be spent has begun.
“I’m just the guy holding a bag of money with no authority to spend it or to delegate where it should go or allocate where it should go. I’m just sitting here saying, okay, state, where do you want me to send the money? South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk.
Where that money should go? That’s the question that three county governments and a regional economic development group want to know the answer to.
“This is a political question that should be hammered out in the halls of the General Assembly, not in the halls of a courtroom,” Attorney General Wilson added.
The groups came together and have filed suit against Attorney General Wilson, wanting to prevent the money from going into the state’s General Fund. Instead, the groups say that the money should be split between Aiken, Allendale, and Barnwell counties where SRS is located.
“It is not for me to step out and assign a percentage or give any particular weight on how much that is. I went and fought for the impact fees that affected South Carolina as a whole, but specifically as it affected those areas of the state. But it’s not the role of the Attorney General to determine how that money has to be spent,” he added.
Shawn asked Governor Henry McMaster recently his thoughts on the settlement. He said the money should go where the action is.”The question of what to do with that money is one that needs to be answered. Of course, there needs to be a focus on this area because this is where the action has been,” Governor McMaster said.
Senator Brad Hutto along with the Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance says that area has suffered from lack of business growth because of SRS and the plutonium and will suffer irreparable harm” if the money is delegated elsewhere. “Nobody doesn’t come to Myrtle Beach because there’s plutonium stored in Barnwell county. Nobody doesn’t go see the panthers play up in Rock Hill because there’s plutonium stored in Barnwell. However, businesses do not locate to Aiken because there’s plutonium stored in Barnwell. Jobs are not created in Allendale because there’s plutonium stored there,” Senator Brad Hutto said.
The Senator also added that there is a stigma associated with the area holding on to plutonium. “As people look to potentially locate other businesses in our region, they learn that plutonium is stored there and they may decide that if, particularly if they’re producing a product for human consumption, that they don’t want a product that says bottled in Aiken County, or processed in Barnwell County.”
Meanwhile, the Attorney General has met with a handful of members of the local delegations to find out what their wishes are. Everyone agrees that the money should stay in the areas impacted the greatest. “If I were a Senator or a House member, I recommended a represented an economic development organization in that area of the state, I would be arguing the very same arguments they’re making. I think they’re right, well within their rights to make that argument,” Attorney General Wilson added.
You can find a copy of the full lawsuit here.