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DHEC, "longlining", Dunkin Donuts, Mayor Riley's plans

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"They are really friendly about you roasting in hell."

Nationally syndicated sex-advice columnist and gay man Dan Savage on his trip to South Carolina to talk with Biblically-minded supporters of Mike Huckabee for Real Time with Bill Maher.

Dumb and D(HEC)umber

Electronics manufacturer AVX Corp. was recently found to have contaminated groundwater under a Myrtle Beach neighborhood with high concentrations of trichloroethylene (TCE), a cancer-causing chemical used as a degreaser. AVX illegally dumped TCE into the city's sewer system from 1981 to 1995. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) was aware of the pollution since at least 2000, but declined to test the groundwater because AVX told them it was contained. "It would have been nice if AVX had put in off-site wells when they were requested," said Carol Minsk, a DHEC geologist, to Myrtle Beach City Council last Tuesday. Faced with a multi-million dollar cleanup, AVX filed court papers last week demanding that neighborhood property owners help foot the bill, citing the act that established Superfund which states all parties responsible for contamination must share in cleanup costs. "It's ridiculous that you have a billion-dollar company trying to argue that these landowners are somehow responsible for the company's pollution," said Gene Connell, a lawyer for the homeowners, in the Myrtle Beach Sun Times. Property values are expected to decline, and neighbors have complained about a foul stench they believe is coming out of the ground. "It's like the earth burped and out came this nasty smell," said one neighbor. —Stratton Lawrence

Kill to Conserve

Any fisherman knows that the more hooks you bait, the more fish you'll catch. Longlining, or the practice of baiting thousands of hooks along a long line dragged behind a commercial fishing vessel, is directly responsible for the dramatic decrease of fish populations in recent decades, including swordfish, wahoo, sailfish, and dolphin off the coast of South Carolina. Since 2000, the practice has been banned in the Charleston Bump area, and swordfish populations in particular have steadily rebounded. Now the longlines are returning in the name of "research." As their method of determining whether the protected areas are actually working to restore fisheries, the National Marine Fisheries Service has issued one-year permits for three commercial vessels to fish using longlines off of Charleston. Recreational fishermen, the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, and several conservation groups have all voiced opposition to the idea of longlining to determine the effectiveness of banning longlining. —Stratton Lawrence

50

That's how many people gathered outside the Democratic debate wearing scuba gear, swimsuits, and snorkels to demand that climate change be addressed by the candidates. Low-lying Myrtle Beach is particularly susceptible to rising water levels from global warming.

0

That's how many questions the Democratic candidates were asked about climate change at last week's debate in Myrtle Beach. Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, a coal industry lobby group, was a sponsor of the debate. ABEC co-sponsored the CNN/YouTube debates in Nevada and Florida as well, where no specific global warming questions were asked, but "clean coal" brochures were distributed at the debate's entrance.

19

That's the number of new Dunkin' Donuts planned for the Charleston region over the next few years. The goal is apparently to put a donut shop on the last three blocks of downtown Charleston that don't already have a Starbucks.

Mayor Talks up police, fire

After strolling into his record ninth term, Mayor Joe Riley made it clear that he wasn't going to be napping this year. Riley highlighted all those things most taxpayers love: parks, bike trails, after-school programs, downtown redevelopment, and affordable housing.

But what stood out in his speech were those things out of his control. After mentioning state gun laws that he's lobbied for, Riley noted Police Chief Greg Mullen was making a pitch for a regional police academy to get around a months-long waiting list for the state's Columbia academy.

"What this means is that when our community and others resolve to invest in public safety by putting more officers on the street, we have to wait to do that because of a lack of capacity at the state's training facility," he said.

The mayor also called for universal four-year-old kindergarten in order to prevent "children entering the first grade not ready to learn." Legislative leaders have said the money likely won't be there this year to expand the program beyond its existing handful of at-risk communities.

After a record year of violence in 2006, it was clear from Riley's message that the police force has been turning things around, with serious crime and homicides down, more police officers on the street, increased narcotics and DUI arrests, and upgrades in crime-fighting technology and other resources.

Riley followed the evident improvements of the police force with an update on what has been the most challenging year for the city's fire department in its history. He reiterated the findings of a post-incident review team that the Sofa Super Store that took the lives of nine firefighters was a "high risk property that exceeded the fire suppression capabilities of any fire department." Regarding the long list of fire department improvements suggested by the same review team, Riley told residents the city is still committed to becoming a model department.

"Our goal is that when there is another tragic fire in our country, that city's fire department will know to look to Charleston and learn from the nation's oldest and best," he said.

If there was a section most likely to be pasted back into the 2009 State of the City speech, it was Riley's hope for traction on a commuter rail line. "This would remove cars from our clogged highways during the commuter hours and give our residents a safer, easier, less stressful and more economical way to get to and from work." —Greg Hambrick

23

That's the number of American Idol contestants, out of the 10,000 who auditioned in Charleston, who made it to Hollywood. "The city could be summed up in one word," said host Ryan Seacrest. "No."

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