Editorial roundup: Jan. 12, 2018

Posted 1/12/18

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Post and Courier

Jan. 9

Airport prep after snow shut down busiest airport

Charleston isn't very well prepared for five inches of snow. It's just not a challenge that pops up very …

This item is available in full to subscribers

Editorial roundup: Jan. 12, 2018

Posted

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Post and Courier

Jan. 9

Airport prep after snow shut down busiest airport

Charleston isn't very well prepared for five inches of snow. It's just not a challenge that pops up very often. Prior to last week, the last time the city faced a winter storm that bad was almost 30 years ago.

So it's no surprise that snowfall effectively shut down Charleston International Airport on Jan. 3 as it piled up on the runway. Without special equipment on hand, airport and Air Force officials couldn't do much more than watch and wait.

"The last time we had this big of an issue was in 1989, and it wasn't as big a problem then because we didn't have the traffic we do now," explained airport CEO Paul Campbell.

But it is inexcusable that airport operations didn't fully resume again until Sunday morning.

The paralysis of South Carolina's busiest airport left thousands of passengers stranded and more than 400 flights cancelled. And given that the airport runways are owned by Joint Base Charleston, the whole debacle represented a threat to military readiness as well.

The Air Force decides when to close and open the runways at the airport.

It's understandable that the airport and the Air Force don't keep special snow-and-ice-clearing equipment around for a crisis situation that presents itself only once every few decades. For the most part, that would be a waste of money.

But there should have at least been a formal plan in place for getting things up and running more quickly. Waiting for Mother Nature to help doesn't cut it.

"How do you plan for a 30-year event?" Mr. Campbell asked in an interview with The Post and Courier on Sunday.

Really it shouldn't be too hard.

Five inches of snow is uncommon in the Lowcountry, but flurries and freezing rain are not. The airport has contingencies in place for other types of severe weather, and heavy snowfall shouldn't be an exception.

And there was plenty of prior warning too.

When weather forecasts began calling for snow last week, airport and base officials should have started looking for plows and salt. And if they weren't immediately available locally, arrangements should have been made to bring in equipment from elsewhere.

Interstates and major roads in the area were quickly cleared of most ice after last Wednesday's storm. In fact, a lot of stranded airline passengers rented cars and drove to their destinations or nearby airports instead. Charleston's airport remained closed days after others in the Southeast had cleared away ice and snow and resumed operations.

Snow plows eventually cleared the runways in Charleston, and sunshine helped melt the last of the ice by late Saturday afternoon.

"I know we got criticized for it, but safety is our priority here," explained Campbell. No question, it would have been unacceptable to allow planes to operate in unsafe conditions.

But there are plenty of lessons to be learned.

Mr. Campbell suggested that the next time something like this happens, the airport could have a contractor on standby, start responding earlier and improve communication with airlines.

The last point is particularly critical. One runway opened early Saturday morning, but miscommunication and logistical issues prevented any flights from landing or taking off before Sunday.

It's entirely possible that the airport won't need a snow emergency plan for another generation. Or it might need one next month. The weather is unpredictable, so it's best to be prepared for a variety of scenarios.

And whether the next big snowstorm happens next year or in 2040, the Charleston airport needs to be ready.

Index-Journal

Jan. 8

Not awarding severance packages to utility executives

Maybe the directors of SCANA deserve some accolades, but their decision not to give parachutes to the executives who essentially set fire to the plane before bailing out should have been a no-brainer.

Severance packages worth tens of millions of dollars could have been awarded to former CEO Kevin Marsh and Steve Byrne, operations chief, but they hardly would have earned the payout. Recall that in July SCANA's subsidiary, South Carolina Electric & Gas, scrapped the planned expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, leaving more than 700,000 customers with a shocking bill of $37 million a month. SCE&G and Santee Cooper, its partner and a state-owned utility, spent nearly $10 billion on the construction project before scuttling it.

Three months later, Marsh and Byrne announced their retirements, perhaps appropriately enough on Halloween.

Don't feel too sorry for the pair of executives. While utility customers have endured higher costs, these two have enjoyed significantly increased wages. In April, the Aiken Standard's former editor, Michael Smith, delved into the pair's earnings. At the time, Marsh was the top utility chief earner with an annual salary of $6.1 million. That represented an increase of more than $375,000 above his 2015 salary. For perspective, consider Smith's findings: "Marsh's total compensation is greater than the combined salaries of all South Carolina House and Senate members. Individual legislators are paid $10,400 a year in salary and $12,000 in per diem expenses, or $22,400 in annual compensation, according to S.C. Ethics Commission filings."

Byrne, Smith reported, was the second-highest-paid SCANA executive, earning $2.58 million, an increase of $175,455.

Need another reason not to feel sorry?

Both will continue to benefit anyway. Marsh will get free health insurance until he turns 65, and Byrne's health insurance will be covered for a year and a half. Both also own company stock, which, not unlike their 2015 pay raises, rocketed last week after SCANA agreed to be acquired by Dominion Energy.

"This decision is in the unique context of the abandonment and the company's responsibilities to our ratepayers and shareholders," SCANA spokesman Eric Boomhower wrote in an email Friday in announcing the parachutes would not be deployed.

Small comfort for those left in the dark and for those left holding the bill. But the right decision. To have given the severance packages would have been akin to committing white collar crime.