Bishopville taxpayers wonder why Lee Co. wants to push through b - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Bishopville taxpayers wonder why Lee Co. wants to push through bypass plan

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This document shows that the bypass would pass through a plot of land owned by the family of Lee County Council's vice chairman. This document shows that the bypass would pass through a plot of land owned by the family of Lee County Council's vice chairman.

The fight over a potential bypass around downtown Bishopville has deeply divided Lee County officials and voters in the area who fear the project will kill off the already struggling downtown.

The county says the project is a risk worth taking and is trying to usher the plan through.

However, people who oppose the plan wonder why the county is hellbent on pushing the bypass through when Bishopville town officials and thousands of taxpayers spoke out against it.

Each year, Bishopville's Main Street dries up a little more. Doors chained, building permits that once showed signs of life are forgotten, and old employee time cards collect dust behind for sale signs.

It's easy to see the little town is struggling.

Farmer William McElveen stands to lose hundreds of acres to the bypass. It would split his farm in half -- a farm he's spent 40 years building. McElveen hired an attorney to fight Lee County Council and the bypass.

"It's not just about my farm and me," said McElveen. "This is about our community that it's going to destroy. I feel our little town -- there are 19 vacant stores uptown right now. If this bypass comes, what is that going to do to our little city?"

The bypass will do plenty, according to this economic impact study released last fall. It shows diverting traffic away from downtown poses a "great threat" to Bishopville.

Nearly 2,000 county taxpayers sent opposition letters to the state's Transportation Department, asking to ditch the bypass. That hasn't stopped county council.

"As we stand here today with all these vacant buildings, we need to do something different," said Lee County Council Chairman Travis Windham, who also owns an insurance company on Main Street.

Windham is also trying to convince city council to support the bypass so the county doesn't lose millions in grant money.

"Is the bypass going to make Main Street flourish? Probably not. But, it's a $19, $20 million project that only comes along every 12 years," said Windham. "We feel like it's an opportunity and we feel like it's the right thing to do for the county of Lee."

McElveen says he can't understand the county's motivation for pushing the bypass through.

"I don't understand why it's being pushed so hard and the people have spoken," said McElveen. "They do not want it."

In researching the property along the proposed route, we uncovered a deed belonging to an LLC called Longview Family Limited Partnership.

A search of the Secretary of State files shows the LLC is registered to Tyson Eckley, he's Lee County Council Vice Chairman Gordon Eckley's brother. The Eckley family owns 50 1/2 acres right in the path of the bypass. If approved, the state would have to buy a right-of-way from the Eckleys.

So does this plan have anything to do with the Eckley family's land?

"Absolutely not," said Windham.

Vice Chairman Gordon Eckley declined our request for an on-camera interview, but did interview with us by phone. Eckley says he's against the bypass if the city's against it, but says his family's property has nothing to do with the county's push for the bypass.

"They can say what they want, that doesn't make a bit of sense," said Gordon. "I addressed that when we had the public hearing. I'm one-sixth of whatever little bit we would receive out of it coming across our property. To me, if it doesn't come, I'm excited."

That still hasn't erased doubts for people like William McElveen, who vows to fight the county to the end.

"I did not want to look back five years from now when bulldozers are going through the middle of my farm and say, 'I did not do everything that I could have done to have stopped this,'" said McElveen.

So far, this project has cost taxpayers $775,000 and every penny may be headed down the drain. The feds told the county the project is off if the city isn't on board.

Bishopville City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a motion to set in stone the city's objection to ever building the bypass.

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