Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Audit of Hunley is overdue


The Sun News
By Issac Bailey
May 31, 2006

The (Charleston) Post & Courier has reported that the cost of the H.L. Hunley project - the restoration of a Confederate submarine that was history's first to sink an enemy ship - is closer to $30 million, not the potential $97 million The (Columbia) State reported in a three-day series that sparked debate about the suspect role powerful Sen. Glenn McConnell played in garnering the funding for his pet project.

The Post & Courier suggests the price tag should not have included most of the money for a proposed $42 million Hunley museum in North Charleston and a $35 million Clemson University campus in Charleston.

The purpose of The State's stories, though, was to show how the Hunley was being funded without public debate and through unusual channels, so it seems reasonable to me to include the museum and the involvement of Clemson and other public entities, especially considering senators were surprised when told of those arrangements. You can't get the scope of the project without considering all actual and potential costs. And the series made another important point: the proposed $42 million Hunley museum hasn't had a feasibility study, meaning we don't know how many years taxpayers would be on the hook to keep it afloat if a paying public shows no interest.

What the story in the Post & Courier does is give our elected officials another reason to order a public accounting of the Hunley. The state's largest newspapers have reported wildly divergent accounts, making an official investigation necessary to clear up the confusion, they can say. Or, if it will make them feel less cowardly, they can say it is the only way to clear McConnell's good name, considering it is his alleged backdoor dealing to fund the project that has come under the most scrutiny.

It will take five members of the General Assembly to order such an accounting by the Legislative Audit Council. Gov. Mark Sanford should use his bully pulpit to force an official look. If in the past three plus years he hasn't mustered enough strength in Columbia to make such a thing happen, why should we bother re-electing him? In fact, why should we bother re-electing anyone who doesn't feel compelled to answer the

$97 million question?

Horry County Council has to decide if it's right to ask us to pay for roads for which the state is responsible but has refused to fund while the price tag on the Hunley might reach $97 million. Why aren't our people in Columbia bothered by that?



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