July 15, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

USC Warehoused Bottled Water it Bought for Flooding


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University bought 300K bottles of water for floods, hasn’t donated yet

One of the University of South Carolina’s biggest embarrassments of recent years is currently hiding another.

On the empty concrete floor inside the former USC biomass plant – a $19.6 million, “green-energy” flop that vendor Johnson Controls never could make work without setting off periodical “potentially lethal explosions” – sits pallet after pallet filled with cases of bottled water the school bought at a discount during the floods of October 2015 but never opened, never distributed, and only acknowledged after a media request by The Nerve.

The vacant biomass building at the corner of Whaley and Sumter streets, which closed in March 2011, sits locked, with a big red sign taped to the door reading “BUILDING CLOSED No Admittance.” It is maintained by the school’s facilities department and has no other discernible purpose now besides the storage of row after row of unopened pallets from the 300,000 bottles worth $41,000 that the school bought for $31,000 thanks to a $10,000 discount from Grainger due to the emergency nature of the purchase.

USC spokesman Wes Hickman said since the city of Columbia returned potable water service within days of the flooding, the university’s needs were not what they could have been. He said while some of the water has been used, the plans “to distribute it at events in the coming months.”

With many events having already happened at the school and city over the past six months, why so much water hasn’t been used or wasn’t donated to a community in crisis remains a question.

“Numerous options were considered,” Hickman said. “Including distribution to our own off-campus students, faculty and staff for home use.”

Giving the water away to the community was not a consideration, Hickman said. “[S]ince the water was purchased with state funds, we are limited in its use and distribution.

“Therefore, it was determined the best method of distribution would be at on-campus events, like commencement and others with large numbers of attendees.”

South Carolina Treasurer Curtis Loftis said he was not aware of any such specific prohibition on donating items, especially items that were purchased for the purpose of donation.

“I’m not aware of that (prohibition),” Loftis said. “That was the point, to give it away to people in need. That’s what they bought it and got a discount. I would say that they give it away if they wanted to.

“Even if they didn’t want to donate it, I’m sure the students could use it.”

On the school’s official website a page remains dedicated to instructing students and faculty on what they can do to help flood victims since “our campus is safe and dry.”

“Donate Needed Items: Concerned members of the Carolina family – both within and outside the local community – may choose to donate much needed items to families who have experienced devastating losses. Items can range from bottled water, gloves and masks to personal items such as toiletries, diapers and clothing.”

Reach Aiken at (803) 254-4411. Email him at ron@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken and @TheNerveSC. Like what we’re doing? Sign up for email alerts to receive breaking news at the top right-hand side of the page.

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