Tensions Surrounding Chapin High Project Rise

July 26, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveA Chapin resident says her attempts to force Lexington/Richland School District 5 to revamp its construction plans at an area high school have led to legal threats from others in the community.

Kim Murphy said Albert Bueno, the president of General Information Services and advocate of school construction, called her late last month and said that if she filed an appeal of a decision by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to allow Chapin High to build athletic fields on wetland property a restraining order could be filed against her.

Murphy, an opponent of many of District 5’s decisions regarding expansion and a citizen reporter for The Nerve, wants District 5 to consider less costly and less environmentally damaging alternatives for new ball fields at Chapin High.

Bueno, a vocal supporter of District 5’s 2008 $243 million bond referendum whose children attend or have attended Chapin High, denies that he tried to pressure Murphy.

“She’s an absolute joke,” he says. “I never once threatened her. She’s a lady with too much time on her hands trying to use the system to get what she wants.

“This is just more typical Kim Murphy b.s. and that’s why Chapin High is in the shape it is,” adds Bueno, whose background-screening company employs more than 400.

However, Murphy provided The Nerve with a tape of a conversation between herself and Bueno, recorded in late June by Murphy, in which Bueno left little doubt as to what course of action would be taken if Murphy proceeded with an appeal.

“They’ve already raised money,” Bueno tells Murphy. “We’re going to retain an attorney and they’re going to make you get an attorney and make you spend money in order to fight this.”

The conversation took place after Murphy returned a call to Bueno, who was seeking a meeting with Murphy to discuss the latter’s plans regarding a possible appeal. Bueno said his intention was to help Murphy by making her aware that others in the community were considering legal action against her.

“I just wanted to give you a head’s up, that’s all I’m trying to do. Nothing else,” he tells her. “I don’t want you to take this as a threatening thing. It’s nothing like that whatsoever because that’s not the intent.

“People are going to sue you personally to get you to stop circumventing what the majority of people have voted for in this city for those schools,” he adds.

The project in question, which seeks to fill in 727 feet of creek in order to build additional ball fields, is part of bond referendum approved by voters in 2008.

District 5 officials claim that the athletic fields are not adequate for the school given its size, but Murphy says the district has failed to demonstrate that there are no practicable alternatives that would avoid or reduce the impact on the creek and wetlands.

Murphy did end up filing suit with the S.C. Administrative Law Court earlier this month, seeking to overturn and deny DHEC’s water-quality certification for the project. The district had received initial approval from DHEC on May 21 after a lengthy process stretching over many months.

Last month, Mary Shahid of The McNair Law Firm told the District 5 board there’s little the district can do if a citizen wants to employ legal means to slow a project.

There is nothing improper about the district having a project that impacts wetlands, she said.

“The unfortunate part of that is that it requires a permit, and the permit is a vehicle for your detractors to hold you hostage, effectively, or to get your attention or to cost you money or to make you walk away from a project,” Shahid added.

But Wayne Duncan, a Chapin resident and former District 5 facilities planning committee member, said the district has no one to blame but itself for the delay.

The approval process has been delayed due to concerns over the existing stream and wetlands where the ball fields would go and, as a result, the district must reach a settlement with the Corps of Engineers, which would require the district to fund, for the purpose of restoring and enhancing a stream somewhere else, Duncan wrote in an editorial that appeared earlier this month in both the Irmo News and the Chapin Times.

“Because the importance of this waterway, state regulators must first confirm that the district explored all other options to avoid and minimize the impact to the stream before choosing to build ball fields where the stream now sits,” he wrote.

“And there’s the catch: The district hadn’t seriously considered all of its other options – at least according to the application for the building permit,” Duncan wrote. “In fact, there are several alternatives that have not been explored, including a perfectly suitable adjacent piece of property which is for sale but hasn’t been considered.

“In typical fashion, the district has attempted to blame a Chapin parent for the delay in receiving the permit,” he adds. “On behalf of a group of community members, she has notified state regulators of options which, if found suitable, could alleviate any major environmental concerns and be less costly.”

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or at kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.