Surfside Beach could use some more time.
At least, that’s what town leaders decided during a special meeting Monday. The town council voted 4-3 to approach the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for an extension regarding grant funding awarded to the town for reconstruction of the Surfside Beach fishing pier.
The federal agency agreed to grant over $9 million for construction of a new, revamped pier after the current one was decimated in 2016 because of Hurricane Matthew.
Currently, officials said, the town must start construction by Oct. 15 or it will lose out on the grant money.
“I think it’s clear that this project has been postponed for various reasons, and I believe this is not the time to be rushing because of an artificial deadline,” councilwoman Cindy Keating said, adding it is in the best interest of the town to fully understand any concerns and potential consequences moving forward.
“There are real questions out there that pose a significant risk to our town,” she added. “I don’t think we can continue ignoring them.”
Councilwoman Debbie Scoles, who voted in opposition along with councilmen Bruce Dietrich and Paul Holder, said asking for an extension isn’t appropriate.
“We’ve got time,” she said. “From talking with (Town Administrator) Mr. (Dennis) Pieper, as far as the extension, FEMA wants to see we are making progress.”
Town councilman David Pellegrino said the federal agency declining an extension could prove to be a positive motivation resulting in town officials working quickly on the project.
Additionally, council members decided to rescind the controversial 3-2 vote taken July 1 awarding a bid to Orion Marine Group and FBi Construction for pier construction.
Town leaders this week said the town’s rules were violated because the bid information was not advertised in a newspaper.
The project will be open for a rebid for 10 days, and after that, the new bid submissions will be evaluated.
Scoles said a better time to ask FEMA for an extension might be once the bid is awarded again and the town has a better understanding of the timeframe in regard to the project.
The July 1 vote saw Scoles, Pellegrino and Holder vote in favor and Keating and Mayor Bob Hellyer vote in opposition.
A lawsuit was then filed against the three who voted in favor that day and the town by Keating, Hellyer and councilman Michael Drake which claims the July 1 vote was illegal because it violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Hellyer said Monday’s vote had nothing to do with the lawsuit.
The pending litigation has drawn criticism from some town residents and support from others.
There have also been concerns brought up regarding the cost of the project. In addition to the FEMA grant money, the council has planned to utilize a line of credit and money from the town’s pier fund.
Pieper assured the council a new pier can be built without any tax increase.
“The money’s there,” he said, “and we have other things in the horizon coming that I think certainly will produce more revenue for us.”