By Stan Welch
As the result of a decision by Duke Energy to change the Lee Steam Plant from coal to gas fired turbines in order to generate electricity, Williamston is on the threshold of a major economic boom.
More than five hundred construction workers will be involved in the modifications, which are expected to cost approximately a half billion dollars. Upstate and global construction giant Fluor has been awarded the construction contract and will be in charge of awarding subcontracts as needed.
A separate but concurrent coal ash disposal project will add another hundred million dollars to the total cost of the projects. Duke spokesman Ryan Mosier said that the ash disposal project will start this spring, with the combined cycle construction project slated for a summer kickoff.
Each project will place its own demands on the town and its infrastructure, both government and private sector. The coal ash project will result in as many as a hundred fifty trips per day by dump trucks hauling the ash to a lined landfill in Homer, GA. According to information made public at a Cheddar community meeting recently, as many as three routes will be established to spread the load across area roads, as well as to facilitate the hauling.
County Councilwoman Cindy Wilson stated that Duke is expected to hold community meetings to educate the public about the projects and their possible impacts; and to receive input about which routes would be best. She also mentioned the possibility that Duke will provide some funding for upkeep and repair of the roads used by the heavy trucks. The disposal of the 3.2 million tons of ash is expected to take between two and three years.
Williamston Mayor Mack Durham acknowledged that the two projects will present challenges to both the town and the business community, but he sees the situation as a tremendous economic opportunity.
“I realize that these projects will bring a lot of new people to our community. I hope that many of the rental properties in the area will be occupied, as well as the opening of some bed and breakfast facilities. With a three year span predicted for the projects, it’s even possible that a smaller motel might locate nearby,” said Durham.
Durham doesn’t rule out the possibility of new restaurants opening in the area, or possible food vendors providing service on the job site, as they did when First Quality came to the area and began their massive construction project. “I think Fluor will make any decisions along those lines, but I’m sure we have local vendors and restaurants who could meet those needs if called on.”
He added that the town has been streamlining the process for starting a new business as part of the Main Street program that is currently underway. “We stand ready to do anything we can to help new businesses, or expanding businesses. The next few years look to be very productive and exciting for our town.”
He also mentioned that the Town’s recent partnership with TriCountyTech offers some new opportunities. “There is a CDL truck driving course available at the campus, and there has been some discussion of making training available locally, if the numbers support that. It’s our goal to help as many local residents get jobs as possible, and if that requires training, we’ll take a look at that.”
He expressed confidence that the Town’s current police force is both adequate and prepared to manage the additional activity in town. “I have no doubt that Chief Taylor is prepared to maintain order in the town.”