County to cite owner of Buffalo Mill property
by Charles Warner Editor
UNION COUNTY — The owner of the old Buffalo Mill will be cited by Union County every 14 days until the property is cleaned up.
During a special meeting Tuesday afternoon, Union County Council voted unanimously to accept a recommendation from its Committee on Administration and Finance that after this Friday the owner of the property, Howard Johnson, be issued a summons every 14 days until he cleans it up. Wednesday’s special meeting was preceded by a meeting of the committee which discussed the property and what committee chairman councilman Tommy Ford said was the county’s efforts over the years to get Johnson to clean up the site.
Ford began by pointing out that Johnson, not Union County, owns the property and that the county has “tried every angle to get him to clean it up” for the past six years. He said that over the years Johnson has been repeatedly cited by the county and each time fined by the magistrate’s court for failing to clean up the property. Despite this, Ford said Johnson has still not cleaned it up.
“This has been going on for too long,” Ford said. “I’ve been dealing with this for six years and I’m tired of it. Something has got be be done.”
During the discussion of the county’s efforts to get the property cleaned up, Supervisor Tommy Sinclair said that he and councilman Frank Hart had gone to Johnson with a proposal that he sell the property to the county for a small sum. Sinclair said the idea was that the county would take ownership of the property which would then be cleaned up relieving Johnson of the responsibility and cost involved. He said Johnson did not accept the offer.
If the county was to acquire ownership of the property, Ford said there are grants it could obtain to pay for the clean up.
“There are grants that are set up in Columbia just for cleaning up properties like that,” Ford said. “I hear people say all the time that the taxpayer shouldn’t have to pay for this, but there is money set aside in Columbia especially for cleaning up sites. We should take advantage of that.”
Ford pointed out that the county had previously issued Johnson summonses every 14 days, but was told at the time by the magistrate’s court that each one had to be adjudicated before the next one was issued. He said the county had also looked at putting a lien on the property and on Johnson’s equipment, but had been told this was not legal. Ford said that since then, Hart has consulted with an attorney with the Association of Counties in Columbia about the matter. He said Hart was told the county could issue Johnson summonses every 14 days and allow them to pile up.
The county will not begin issuing the summonses until two weeks after this Friday. Johnson is scheduled to go before the magistrate’s court on Friday for a hearing about a summons issued earlier this year. Council decided to delay issuing the summonses until two weeks after Friday to allow the current case against Johnson to be heard.
If convicted of failing to clean up the property, Johnson could be fined as much as $500 under county statute though the amount of the fine levied is at the discretion of the magistrate.
When reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, Johnson said he has been working for years to earn the money needed to clean up the property and has already spent a great deal to do so.
“I work out of town and work my business to earn the money and in the last two years I’ve put over $20,000 of my money, the money I make, into cleaning it up,” Johnson said. “Then they come to me and ask me to give it to them, that they had some money available that they could use to clean it up. I told them that I couldn’t give it to them but I’d work with them about cleaning it up if they could help me with money. But instead of them working with me they’re just going to take it.”
Johnson said he’d offered a year ago to sell the county the property with the county paying a small portion of the price in advance which he would use to clean it up. Then, once it was cleaned up, Johnson said the county would pay him the rest and assume ownership.
“This is America, I pay taxes on the property and I have been working to clean it up,” Johnson said. “For them to come in and say they are going to take it away from me it isn’t right.”
Johnson said that while he will not just give the property to the county, he is still open to working out a deal which will benefit both sides.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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