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S.C. Senate to discuss spending $2 billion in federal cash

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina senators are getting ready to debate more than $2 billion in federal money coming to the state.
About $1.7 billion is in COVID-19 relief money and an additional $525 million are fines paid by the federal government in a settlement after a plan to convert plutonium from nuclear bombs into nuclear reactor fuel was abandoned and it failed to make promised deadlines to remove the radioactive material from the Savannah River Site near Aiken.
Debate on how to spend both piles of money are scheduled to start Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Harvey Peeler told senators last week.
The bulk of the COVID-19 relief money — $900 million — is proposed to go to helping rural water and sewer authorities upgrade their systems. Gov. Henry McMaster proposed similar aid, saying the money was a great one-time opportunity to repair systems that are reaching the end of their safety and usefulness after several decades.
Senators will also consider spending $400 million to bring broadband internet to rural areas and $450 million to offset money the Department of Transportation lost after collecting less in gas tax and other revenue during the pandemic.
The Senate Finance Committee is proposing spending the $525 million in fines from the plutonium around the state.
Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties where the Savannah River Site is located, will get $341 million. Barnwell will spend $110 million on new school buildings, while Allendale County plans school upgrades and a new building for law enforcement and other government agencies.
Aiken County plans an industrial park, expanding a cybersecurity industry corridor in North Augusta and redeveloping neighborhoods near Aiken.
Edgefield, Orangeburg and Hampton counties which surround the site are getting $52 million they mostly will spend on attracting industry.
The remaining $131 million in federal funds will be spread on projects around the state.
McMaster wanted the $525 million to go just to the three counties that gave land to the Savannah River Site. But Peeler said while those counties were impacted the most when the nuclear fuel plan was abandoned, the whole state suffered at least a little.
“The counties that were impacted the most, of course, were the closest, then the perimeter counties. But then, every county in the state had a taste,” Peeler said at a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Feb. 8.

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