What population growth means for county's infrastructure

  • Posted: Saturday, January 18, 2014 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Saturday, January 18, 2014 12:47 a.m.

South Carolina ranked 24th in the United States for population growth, with an estimated year-to-year increase of 51,000 people.

Fact Box

Aiken County

2012: 162,812

2011: 162,016

2010: 160,622

2009: 156,017

2008: 154,601

2007: 153,098

2006: 150,834

2005: 148,684

2004: 147,589

2003: 145,941

2002: 144,706

City of Aiken

2012: 29,884

2011: 29,835

2010: 29,644

2009: 29,494

2008: 29,220

2007: 29,066

2006: 28,657

2005: 28,046

2004: 27,586

2003: 27,014

2002: 26,647

City of North Augusta

2012: 21,873

2011: 21,709

2010: 21,401

2009: 20,880

2008: 20,576

2007: 20,186

2006: 19,753

2005: 19,255

2004: 18,958

2003: 18,435

2002: 18,125

Aiken County has seen its own growth spurt over the past 10 years, with nearly 20,000 more people added to the census.

In 2002, Aiken County’s population was about 144,700, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number jumped to 162,812 by 2012.

Both the populations of the cities of Aiken and North Augusta increased by more than 3,000 people between 2002 to 2012.

With the population predicted to continuously rise at a fairly fast rate in the state, counties and cities have to plan ahead to handle increased households and traffic and make changes to their voting precincts.

Roads

The County and municipality planning departments are constantly looking into the future. According to County Planning Director Stephen Strohminger, they typically look at planning 20 years ahead to keep up with the growing population and continuing progression.

Over the past few years, a variety of corridor studies have been conducted to either maintain or increase the level of service of a road, improve the aesthetics of the surrounding area in efforts to attract business and protect green space.

For example, the U.S. 1/U.S. 78 study completed in 2012 concentrates on the 12-mile corridor that goes from the Savannah River to the Aiken city limits where Hitchcock Parkway starts at Richland Avenue.

In 2035, it’s projected that the population in that area will have jumped from the estimated 6,500 households counted in 2006 to a little more than 10,000.

The study offers guidance to road improvements to handle increased traffic and enhanced overlay districts for new businesses or housing units.

Strohminger pointed out Whiskey Road, which is the main business stretch in Aiken, as an example of a road that’s “pretty maxed out.” He said that means they have to find ways to alleviate traffic congestion, which is why there’s planning for future connector roads.

One example is the Whiskey Road–Powderhouse Road Connector Study that was completed in 2006. It’s unknown when the actual project will begin.

Planning is based on educated predictions, but Strohminger feels confident they’re rightly preparing for continued growth in Aiken County.

“As long as you have that base and we keep having things that attract folks here like great weather and amenities, I think we’re going to continue to grow in the foreseeable future,” Strohminger said.

Utilities

Water and sewer districts are feeling the effects of a growing population.

Breezy Hill Water and Sewer, which is situated between Aiken and North Augusta, has experienced big changes as new businesses and homes pop up around their service area.

General Manager Charles Hilton describes the changes he’s seen in his company alone as “drastic.” In fact, Breezy Hill opened an additional facility in October.

When it was first established in 1969, Breezy Hill only serviced 297 residential taps. Now, is it up to more than 5,500. Hilton said in 1988, it produced 392 million gallons of water and by 2013, it doubled to approximately 815 million gallons.

As subdivisions such as Gregg’s Mill and Horse Creek develop, the demand for Breezy Hill’s services increase. In 2007, Breezy Hill added 213 new residential taps. The numbers have dropped to closer to 160 new taps over the years, Hilton said.

Though there has been a bit of a slowdown in residential growth, Breezy Hill has seen an influx in industrial demand. They offer services to Sage Mill Industrial Park in Graniteville, where Bridgestone is located.

“This area has been a prime development area,” Hilton said. “We’ve been relatively fortunate in landing new industry in Aiken County.”

Voting

Population affects polling places and council districts.

For example, Aiken City reorganized its district format after voters approved a referendum in 2011. For years, City Council had four-single member districts, two at large members and one mayoral seat. Now, Council has six-single member districts with the mayoral seat remaining at large.

Population shifts and increases were factors in that reorganization. The redistricting took place in efforts to maintain the two minority-majority districts as well as maintaining equal representation of the City’s residents by assuring the population is evenly divided in each district.

The Aiken County Registration and Elections Commission has seen a pretty big increase in voters and precincts over the past 10 years. In 2002, there were 70,401 registered voters in Aiken County and 63 precincts.

Currently, there’s more than 103,000 registered voters in Aiken County, and it’s jumping from 76 to 79 precincts.

Registration and Elections Commission Executive Director Cynthia Holland said based on the precincts added over the past few years, it appears the majority of the growth has taken place on the southside of Aiken, the North Augusta-Belvedere area and the Montmorenci area.

Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va.

and a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College.

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