The proposed Patriots Lake would be the latest in a series of projects that over the past two centuries have provided the base for strong, sustained economic development in Union County, a lake proponent told the Union Rotary Club on Tuesday.
Patriots Lake would be formed by the damming of Tyger River and Fairforest Creek in the Sumter National Forest. Proponents have touted it as a source of water for Union County and the Upstate as well as an economic boon for the county.
The benefits of the 6,500-acre lake were presented to Rotary during its regular meeting Tuesday at Covenant Baptist Church by Rotarian Willliam Jeter.
Jeter, the lake’s foremost proponent and chairman of the committee spearheading efforts to get it built, pointed out that similar projects in the past have provided the basis for periods of successful industrial recruitment and economic growth in Union County and continue to do so today. He said the lake can do the same for the county.
From the late 19th century through much of the 20th century, the dominant economic feature of Union County was the textile industry, with plants in communities throughout the county including Union, Jonesville, Lockhart, Buffalo, and Monarch.
Jeter said the foundation for the development of the textile industry in Union County was put in place by, first, the state-funded construction of Lockhart Canal in the early part of the 19th century which improved transport on the Broad River.
This was followed by the construction of railroads in the county beginning in 1858 by a group of investors led by John Young which built the Union-Spartanburg line, the line also linked up with Lockhart and Charlotte.
These developments provided the infrastructure the textile industry needed to locate and flourish in Union County. Jeter said that in turn the textile industry would “sustain Union County for the next century.”
A more recent development that Jeter said has provided the basis for the successful recruitment of new industry was the construction of the four-lane Furman L. Fendley Highway (U.S. 176) north of Union. Jeter said that since the highway was completed, Union County has attracted a number of new industries including Belk, Dollar General, Gestamp and now Gonvauto. He questioned whether the county would have been able to recruit these industries without the highway.
For the future, Jeter said that water would be the fuel for economic development in Union County and the Upstate. He said that the growth the Upstate has experienced in recent years and is projected to continue into the future will require new, secure and reliable sources of water. Jeter said that Patriots Lake can help meet the region’s growing need for water and that by helping meet that need, Union County can share in that growth the way it did during the era of textiles.
Proponents of the lake have said it could attract new businesses which would create new jobs and generate increased tax revenues for the county. Jeter pointed out that increasing the tax base could reduce the tax burden on the people of Union County, in effect cutting their taxes.
A study of the proposed lake by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that the Upstate has sufficient supplies of water to meet it needs until 2030. Jetter pointed out that drought has been a continuing problem in the Upstate in recent years, adding that at the present time the Broad River is Union County’s only source of water. He said that the problem of recurring drought combined with the growth the Upstate is experiencing means a second source of water for Union County and the Upstate is a necessity.
“We may not need the reservoir now, but what about 30, 20, 15 years from now,” Jeter said. “We all need to think about what the future is going to be like. A safe, secure and reliable resource of water is imperative for Union County and it will help the Upstate.”
A study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that while the lake was “technically possible” it was not economically justified. The study projected that while the lake would generate some benefits, these would not be enough to justify the estimated $187 million it would cost to build it.
Jeter, however, pointed out that consultants who’d looked at the project had concluded it could be built for much less. In response to a question about how long it would take to the build the lake, Jeter said it would be 10 years from start to finish.
As for those who might scoff at the ability of the lake to prime the pump for the future growth of the county, Jeter recalled a conversation he’d had about the lake with industrialist Roger Milliken. He said Milliken, who was very supportive of the lake, told him that once the federal government allows the project to move forward “private capital will flow into this project.”