Barrineau Public Utilities secures $1 million rural infrastructure grant after years-long effort 


After a long and difficult campaign, Barrineau Public Utilities has successfully secured a $1 million rural infrastructure grant. This funding will significantly improve the local water system, enabling upgrades for existing water lines and the installation of a new water tank, well, and additional fire hydrants in underserved areas. This victory comes after multiple rejections and without the backing of Clarendon County. 

The achievement marks a major milestone for Barrineau Public Utilities, a nonprofit organization committed to providing affordable and reliable water services to the residents of Barrineau and surrounding areas. The organization's president, Steven Barrineau, alongside vice president Robbie Springs and treasurer Bill Wallace, has been at the forefront of this initiative, underscoring the importance of the grant for local infrastructure and public safety. 

 Years of Determination and Setbacks 

The journey to obtaining this grant has been anything but straightforward. It began in 2021 when Barrineau Public Utilities first applied for funding through the South Carolina Infrastructure Investment Fund. Despite being told they were an ideal recipient for funds through the program by State Senator Johnson, District 36, the application was denied. According to Barrineau, the rejection stemmed from the grant’s stipulation against funding new lines, which the utility needed for its upgrades. 

“We were told we didn’t qualify because the grant money wasn’t allocated for new lines, only for upgrading existing systems,” Barrineau explained. “But our system is maxed out, and without new wells and tanks, we can’t provide the necessary volume to support new fire hydrants.” 

 Navigating Sponsorship Challenges 

A critical obstacle in the process was the requirement for a local government sponsor. Initially, Barrineau Public Utilities sought sponsorship from Clarendon County. Despite their efforts, including presenting at Clarendon Council meetings and direct appeals to Council Chairman Dwight Stewart and former County Administrator David Epperson, their requests were denied twice, first in 2022 and again in 2023. 

“The county’s reluctance was a significant setback. They cited potential liability and administrative burden as reasons for their refusal,” said Wallace. “We were really at a loss after these denials, especially since we were asking for support for a project that benefits their residents.” 

For Stewart’s part, he expressed disappointment that council was unable to help with the initial grant. For them, the problem was logistical. Although the Barrineau Crossroads area is primarily located in Clarendon, it borders both Williamsburg and Florence counties. As such, BPU services parts of Williamsburg County and is in the process of connecting water lines with Lake City, creating issues with liability and loan repayment responsibilities.  

Stewart explained that while council understood the Barrineau system would be the main recipient of the grant, they were also going to provide water outside Clarendon County. “Our only concern was that if there was a default, then Clarendon County would have been ultimately liable to making sure the loan was repaid or made whole again. So, that was the only reason. We certainly know all the folks from Barrineau. We know that water system and we know they wanted to make it work, but just from a legal standpoint, we did not feel that we could obligate Clarendon County. If there had been some way to do it so that we weren't obligated, that would have made a difference. But our legal advice was that we could not do that,” Stewart clarified. 

 Turning to Alternative Sponsors 

Undeterred, Barrineau Public Utilities looked beyond Clarendon County. State Senator Ronnie Sabb, District 32, was contacted and Williamsburg County quickly stepped in to help with BPU’s efforts for funding.  

Wallace lauded Williamsburg for their role in the initial grant process, despite that first grant ultimately being denied. “That's when Williamsburg County signed on ... We spent about 30 days back and forth talking when [Clarendon County] turned us down. This is no joke, we called Williamsburg County one day and they called us back the next day. Within 24 hours, said it's a done deal. They had already gone through all the channels in Williamsburg County and within 24 hours it was approved,” Wallace continued.  

After the South Carolina Infrastructure grant was denied, BPU was back to square one. Bonnie Ammons, Director of the Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA), offered other avenues to obtain funding. Barrineau detailed her role, “She said, we got some more money coming up, if you can get somebody to sponsor you. [RIA] said well, you don't have to have your county. You got a nearby town. If they'll sponsor you, you can get the money.” That’s when Barrineau Public Utilites found a willing partner in the Town of Turbeville. 

Turbeville Town Administrator, Howard Garland, agreed to sponsor their grant application. Barrineau explains why this partnership made sense, “I went to the Town Turbeville because we already have a water line connected with them. See, we have a connection where if they need water, we can supply them with water. If we need water, they can supply us with water. I went to Garland, talked with them, and they agreed to do it."

This partnership proved pivotal. The town's support, combined with the utility's diligent application process facilitated by Eastern Engineering, led to the successful acquisition of the $1 million grant. 

“We are incredibly grateful to the Town of Turbeville. Their administration saw the value in our project and agreed to support us when our own county wouldn’t,” said Barrineau. 

 Politics of Local Infrastructure 

BPU’s board, who also include two other members, L.C. Feagin and Brantley Burrows, worked tirelessly and desperately to obtain sponsorship after their home county denied their requests. This process was unusual in how many government entities and local legislators had to be involved because of Barrineau Crossroads’ unique location.  

After BPU received the grant, a letter from RIA was sent to Turbeville’s mayor, Tammy Hicks and the Clarendon County Delegation was carbon copied. Senator Johnson posted the letter on social media and wrote, “For those who say that I don’t represent everyone, I hardly get any support from Barrineau, but I have been working for two or three years to help them get funding for their water system. I am pleased to share that they are receiving $1 million in much needed state funding.” 

While there is no doubt that Johnson did help with the initial grant, he became more unavailable to Springs and the rest of the BPU board after the denial. When asked about his role in the approval of the second RIA grant, Johnson stated, “Even after being informed that most of the system was in Williamsburg County, I still continued to advocate on their behalf. They provided me with a lot of paperwork and information that I used to assist them. Bonnie Ammons, the Executive Director of the S.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority can confirm that I had several conversations with her about funding for this water system. If they now say that they received the funding without my help, that’s fine. I will keep that in mind going forward. At the end of the day, it’s really not about getting credit anyway.” 

The board at BPU agrees that this work is not about receiving credit or accolades. However, the timing of Johnson’s post during a tumultuous primary is noted. If BPU had a list of people and entities for whom they owe their gratitude, Garland, the Town of Turbeville, Ammons, and Williamsburg County would be who they addressed first.  

 Future Prospects and Community Impact 

The grant will fund critical infrastructure upgrades, including a new water tank and well, which are essential for maintaining and improving water pressure and volume. This, in turn, will support the installation of fire hydrants, enhancing fire safety in the region. 

Barrineau Public Utilities is also in the process of applying for additional funding through the State Revolving Fund (SRF), which could further bolster their infrastructure projects. If successful, the combined grants would help offset the costs of their planned upgrades, which are estimated at $7.5 million. 

 Balancing Finances and Community Needs 

One of the most pressing concerns for Barrineau Public Utilities is keeping water rates affordable for its customers, many of whom are low-income, retired, or living on fixed incomes. Over the years, water rates have seen incremental increases to meet funding requirements and infrastructure needs, climbing from $22 to nearly $30 per month. 

“We’re very conscious of the financial burden on our customers. Every dollar counts for them,” said Barrineau. “That’s why securing these grants is so critical. They help us improve our services without disproportionately raising rates.” 

 A Testament to Persistence 

The journey to securing the grant has been a testament to the persistence and resilience of Barrineau Public Utilities’ leadership and the community’s unwavering support. The organization’s ability to navigate political and administrative hurdles, seek alternative sponsorships, and ultimately succeed is a remarkable achievement. 

“This grant is not just about improving our water system; it’s about ensuring the safety and well-being of our community,” Barrineau concluded. “We’ve fought long and hard for this, and it’s gratifying to see our efforts finally pay off.” 

As Barrineau Public Utilities moves forward with these projects, the community can look forward to a stronger and more reliable water infrastructure, all due to years of dedication and hard-won success.