News Archive

(5105) Week of Dec. 21, 2005

Williamston residents to pay more for services
Waste treatment problems add to town’s woes
Municipal Center opened as Red Cross relief shelter
Ice storm hits area hard
Regions Bank closing Friday
Four arrested in local shooting
West Pelzer officials approve phone by poll

Williamston residents to pay more for services

In a 3-2 split vote, Williamston Town Council approved a $2.55 million general fund budget for 2006 that reflects a new household garbage collection fee, increased franchise fees and billing of insurance for non-residents involved in accidents.

The budget shows an increase of $350,000 over the 2005 budget.

The budget includes additional funding for all departments including a warrants officer for the police department, another employee for the street department and, if the town comes in on budget during 2006, will provide an additional $40,000 for a reserve fund for equipment and repairs.

The new household garbage fee will show on the water bills of all of the town’s 2245 residents, beginning with the January billing and will bring in additional revenues of $228,990.

The $8.50 per month household collection fee will cost residents of the town an additional $102 per year which will help fund the cost of the services being provided by the town,  Mayor Phillip Clardy said.

The budget also includes a 2 percent increase in franchise fees, meaning residents will also pay more on their monthly bills from Duke Power, Fort Hill Gas, and Charter Cable.

The increase will bring in an additional $30,000 to $50,000 in revenue annually based on usage, Clardy said.

While residents are being asked to pay more for the services they are being provided, the town’s employees are being asked to help pay for rising insurance costs. Under the new budget they will pay $10 per pay period toward their health insurance.

The change will also allow town employees the option of rejecting town insurance if their spouse has better or cheaper coverage available to them, Mayor Clardy said.

The budget also includes a recommendation by Fire Chief Steve Ellison to begin charging non-residents for costs associated with accidents they may have in the town. The new emergency response fee is expected to bring in $7,000.

The reserve fund in the budget will help pay for equipment and operating expenses, primarily for the street department, which has aging equipment which often needs repair.

Before voting on the budget, Mayor Clardy said that he had followed the advice of accountants and other professionals about ways to increase revenues for the town and that the household collection fee was a better option than raising taxes.

“The fee will help offset some of the cost and provides revenue,” Clardy said. “We must have additional revenue to continue to operate.”

He also stated that the budget was not his budget, but “our budget” and that the department heads that had signed off on their department budgets were prepared to defend their requests.

Each department head was asked to speak to Council and to answer any questions.

Councilman Greg Cole asked Police Chief David Baker if he was comfortable with his requests which include an additional warrants officer.

Baker said that he believes that reduced overtime, better morale and the addition of a warrants officer will be good for the department.

“I feel comfortable with the figures I gave you,” he said.

Cole also asked the street department head David “Doc” Roberts about his department being over budget for 2005 and his request for an additional employee.

Roberts said that the department has eleven employees and will add one, bringing it to 12, a number he said the department has “always had.”

The budget does not cut out recycling, as suggested by the mayor earlier. Clardy said the town will look at the recycling program in the future.

There was some discussion of problems at the waste water treatment plant

Clardy said issues of compliance and capacity which were recently made public will be discussed at the January meeting of Council

He said that Goldie and Associates had been brought in to upgrade and bring the town’s system into compliance with DHEC.

Water Department Supervisor Tim Hood said the company is providing a person to check pump stations and address testing and other issues at the sewer plant about four hours per day, seven days per week.

After the presentations, Clardy made a motion, recommending the budget be approved as presented.

Not receiving a second, Attorney Richard Thompson urged council to approve a  first reading in some form to allow time for a second reading before the end of the year.

Clardy eventually received a second from Councilman Otis Scott, which led to discussion about the proposed household collection fee. “I think we should lower the fee,” Scott said.

Councilmen Cole and Cecil Cothran both said  they wanted to eliminate the new fee.

Clardy said that he had taken the advice of the auditors in preparing the budget and was “condemned nonetheless.” He again made a motion to approve the budget, which died for lack of a second.

Cole then made a motion to readdress the budget without the household collection fee.

After more advice from the town attorney, who advised them not to wait until January  to approve the budget, Mayor Clardy asked for the motion to be tabled and a point of personal priviledge be allowed.

Upon returning to public session, Clardy asked for a poll as to who would support no fee vs. some fee.

With a  2-2 split Councilmen David Harvell and Scott indicated they would support some fee, while Councilmen Cole and Cothran indicated they wanted no fee.

Clardy reiterated that the budget was based on fees being charged by other municipalities and that it would provide the additional revenues needed for a surplus for equipment and trucks.

Again Street Department Head David Roberts pleaded his case for the fee to “keep service going.” He also said that “sooner or later we’re going to have to pay.”

Roberts and Clardy both said the fee is better than raising property taxes.

“It will make it fair,” Clardy said. “Renters do not have to pay property taxes. Everyone across the board will have to pay.”

The mayor again asked for the budget to be approved as submitted and when that failed, with he made the motion of a budget with a fee of $9.50.  Both were voted down 2-3 with Cole, Cothran and Harvell opposed.

Scott then made a motion to lower the fee to $8.50 after which the mayor asked for another point of personal priveledge to meet with staff and department heads, which Council unanimously allowed.

Upon returning to public session,Water Department head Tim Hood pointed out that employees were being asked to pay an additional $10 per month on their health insurance, and that $10 per resident “is not that much to add.”

Roberts pointed out that his department employees had no raise. Clardy said that their raise was covered by the town continueing to pay

health insurance for employees even with increases in previous years.

Scott’s motion of approving the budget with an $8.50 household collection fee was finally approved with a 3-2 vote, with Councilmen Harvell and Scott siding with the mayor on installing a fee. Councilmen Cothran and Cole opposed it.

Councilman Cole later said he did not support the household fee proposal.

He also said he voted against the budget because he had received it at 6 p.m Tuesday and had not had time to review it prior to the meeting and that it amounted to a tax increase for residents.

“My fellow councilmembers voted around a 30 mill tax increase,” Cole said following the meeting.

He also said he would have been more supportive of the budget had there been an effort to cut expenses and the town not hired more people.

Residents were not allowed to speak at the meeting, a custom the town allows at their regular meetings.

A public hearing will be held Tuesday, December 27 at 6 p.m. prior to second reading on the budget

The vote also approved the $1.436 million enterprise fund budget presented by the mayor.

Clardy said he was pleased with the final outcome.

Budgeted expenses by department are:

Administrative: $362,703, down from $369,931 for 2005.

Street: $399,429, down from $412,779 for 2005.

Police: $910,771, down from  $937,193 for 2005.

Parks & Rec.: $168,122, down from $183,473 for 2005.

Fire Dept.: $91,544, up from $50,446 for 2005. 

The budgeted expenses for each department on the 2006 budget do not include the insurance costs as they did on the 2005 figures listed above.

The insurance cost of $182,943 is shown on the 2006 budget under nondepartmental expenses which jumped from $223,717 to $568,164.34.

Non-departmental expenses include professional fees of $67,112, up from $55,078 police fines paid to state, $122,000 and payments on the bond anticipation note, $102,000 and other items.

The enterprise fund budget is separate.

Waste treatment problems add to town’s woes

By Stan Welch

 Questions continue to occur about the Town of Williamston and how its business dealings are being conducted. Recent revelations of multiple and serious violations related to the operations of the town’s wastewater treatment plant are the latest to raise concerns.

 During a special budget meeting Tuesday, Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy said the compliance and capacity issues will be addressed at the January meeting of Town Council which will be held on Monday January 9.

Published reports indicate that the Town has been cited for 75 or more failures to meet state standards for water quality, including fecal coleiform counts, total numbers of suspended solids, and the inadequate measure of biological oxygen demand (BOD) counts.

 Officials of the Town recently attended an enforcement conference with DHEC representatives. This is ordinarily the prelude to the issuance of one or more enforcement actions by DHEC. Indications are that such is the case here as well.

 DHEC spokesperson Dianne Easterling stated that there are currently no consent orders between the Town of Williamston and DHEC to require any specific actions by the Town. “There has been no disposition of the case at this time. We are currently reviewing the situation to determine the proper course of action”.

 The violations cited are serious, involving both unsatisfactory treatment of the Town’s wastewater, as well as improper or inadequate reporting of test results. The Town attributed almost a third of those violations to negligence by former plant operator Bob Hammett, who retired in June. Nevertheless, the 75 violations cover a period from February to October of this year.

 The town is currently under pressure from Anderson County to account for a reported 300,000 gallons in treatment capacity that the county purchased from the town in the mid-‘80’s. Environmental services director Vic Carpenter has been seeking confirmation of the capacity’s availability for more than a year. “It’s been very frustrating trying to confirm this relatively simple fact,” said Carpenter, in a telephone interview. “Most of the other towns we have such arrangements with simply provide us with a simple report verifying that the capacity is available. We’ve tried to work proactively with the Town of Williamston but a year later, we still do not have confirmation that the County’s investment is secure.”

 Carpenter said that recent reports of the Town’s auditor resigning had heightened the county’s concerns about the capacity, but reiterated, “We have been seeking this information for far longer than that. We haven’t done an FOI request, but we’ve tried just about every means but legal ones to obtain this data.”

Carpenter added that the capacity was purchased in order to help Williamston construct their treatment plant in the first place. “The money was given in good faith. The taxpayers of Anderson County provided the funding in exchange for the capacity. They deserve to be assured that their investment is intact.”

 The town has engaged Goldie and Associates of Seneca to address several of their engineering issues. Steve Goldie, contacted by the Journal would say only that his company had been hired to assist the Town. “We don’t usually talk to the media; but I can confirm that we are doing lots of work helping Williamston with a lot of details, and helping them get some of their stuff straightened out.”

Municipal Center opened as Red Cross relief shelter

 The Williamston Municipal Center was opened as a relief shelter offering area residents a place to stay warm and get a hot meal during the recent power outage caused by the ice storm that hit the area last week.

Approximately 45 people were housed between Thursday and Sunday at the shelter according to Melise Chastain, Emergency Service Specialist with the Upsate South Carolina Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Chastain, who is based in Anderson, said the shelter provided 60 meals including breakfast, lunch and dinner, for those staying in the shelter and the volunteers who were there to help.

Taking advantage of a warm place to stay were approximately nine families with small children, and others with a variety of ages, Chastain said.

The Red Cross Chapter had six volunteers and DSS staff, and other volunteers helping out at the shelter.

She said the Municipal Center worked well as a shelter because it has a large kitchen and can house a number of people.

She said the Williamston Fire Department was initially opened as a shelter, but because of the large number of people that showed up, the shelter was relocated to the Municipal Center.

“Mayor Clardy and his staff were very easy to work with and were super,” Chastain said.

The Red Cross shelter was open Thursday through Sunday.

Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy said the center was officially open through noon Monday as most area residents had power restored to their residences by then.

Williamston was one of the hardest hit areas,” he said. “Some residents are still without power,” Clardy said Monday evening.

The mayor, who spent four nights in the shelter, said the heavy ice caused widespread damage throughout the town with several residents having the power box pulled from their homes by limbs or trees falling on the lines.

Clardy said several people had also called for information about electricians or what they should do about a downed line. Duke Power contractors will not work on private property, he said.

As the ice began to melt and temperatures warmed, many people also inquired about a place to store food from their freezers, Clardy said, “Unfortunately we couldn’t help them.”

Clardy said the town will be on regular garbage schedule  for garbage pick up this week but will have extended routes if there is a need to pick up spoiled food items due to sanitary conditions.

He also said there may be additional limb pickup due to the amount of damage suffered by trees and limbs in the town. “We had some damage to all property in the town,” Clardy said.

Clearing public roadways and marking downed lines were the priority for Williamston Street Department crews, Clardy said. We appreciate the patience of the people.”

At one point during the crisis the town was asking residents to conserve water.

A fax sent out on Friday asked residents to conserve water due to unforeseen circumstances. Clardy said the request was necessary because the town’s waste water treatment plant had no power and was working on backup generators.

The Williamston Police Department were placing well being calls to local residents, offering transportation to the shelter if needed, Police Chief David Baker said.

The department also place stop signs at all intersections in the town where traffic lights were not operating. Baker said that State law requires motorists to treat intersections as a four way stop if the traffic lights are not working. “We thought we would remind them,” Baker said. There were no traffic accidents in the town during the period, he said.

Williamston resident Robert Vaughn volunteered to help in the shelter during the four day period, helping get food items donated by local businesses and doing some cooking for those in the shelter.

Vaughn said several local businesses helped out with a need for items in addition to the food being offered by the Upstate Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Food and other items were donated by Little Caesars, Dominos, Eckerd and Eckerd employees, the Corner Bargain Store, and Calvary Baptist Church, according to Vaughn.

The Williamston shelter was one of two opened in Anderson County. Conerstone Assembly of God Church, 213 Brown Road, Anderson was the other. In Greenville County, Hillcrest High School in Simpsonville was opened as a shelter.

Persons staying in the shelters were asked to bring bedding, medications and any other comfort items. No alcohol or pets are allowed in Red Cross shelters, officials said.

Anyone interested in helping out with disaster assistance can do so by making a financial contribution to the American  Red Cross, P. O. Box 9035, Greenville, S. C. 29604.

Ice storm hits area hard

Duke Power’s deadline for power restoration in the Anderson area was on track, according to spokesperson Paige Sheehan. “We were expecting to be through by late Tuesday, December 20, 2005. There may still be spot outages, but the network will basically be restored by that time.”

 More than 9200 workers have been involved in the efforts to restore and repair the damage done by one of the worst ice storms the Upstate has experienced in decades. Sheehan said that crews from 16 states had responded, including crews from areas along the Gulf that Duke assisted after Hurricane Katrina earlier this year. “A number of the crews told us how much they had appreciated our response to the Gulf Coast, and how glad they were to be able to return the favor. It’s really been pretty amazing to see those crews up here working.”

Utility companies in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia were helping restore power.

 More than 700,000 customers, or nearly a third of Duke Power’s 2.2 million users, were without power at the peak of the outages. By comparison, Hurricane Hugo knocked out power to 696,000. Those numbers refer to customers in both Carolinas. As of Monday afternoon at 5 p.m., approximately 157,500 remained without electricity.    

 The majority of those were in South Carolina, with 120,200 still in the dark. 

On Friday, Anderson County had 57,500 homes without power. By Saturday the number was reduced to 40,000 and by Sunday to 21,000.

By Monday, Anderson County still had 7200 customers awaiting power, while Oconee was restored except for minor spot outages. Pickens County had 2600 customers without power, while Greenville County still had some 70,000 customers still blacked out. Spartanburg County had 38,000 customers still without power. The outages spread from the Piedmont of North Carolina to Rockingham to the east. More than 27 counties were affected in the two Carolinas. Counties with less than 500 outages were not listed on the reports published on the Duke website.

 The ice storm struck Thursday and, according to Anderson County Emergency Services Director Tommy Thompson, resulted in a huge increase in the demand on the County’s ability to respond.

 “We have been wide open since this thing hit. Our 911 center performed superbly. We partially activated our emergency operations center and funneled all the storm related stuff to them. That allowed all the normal functions of law enforcement, fire dispatch, and things like that to go on as usual. We had 6,756  911 calls, with more than 1,200 that had to be forwarded to the appropriate agency for handling. Those are huge numbers, compared to our normal levels. The staff just did a great job.”

 Two shelters were opened, including one in Williamston, which Thompson estimated accepted 17-20 people. “The Red Cross operated those shelters for us, and as usual, did a fine job. We probably sheltered about 60 people in all.” 

 Sheehan encouraged those customers without power to contact Duke Power at 1 800- POWERON (1- 800- 769-3766). Customers will receive a more specific estimate for restoration of power to their local areas.

Regions Bank closing Friday

The Williamston Branch of Regions Bank will close its doors on Friday, according to Lisa Scott, Director of Marketing for the Carolinas.

“Our management team routinely reviews the various branches and their performance, and we decided last January that the Williamston branch would be closed,” said Scott in a recent telephone interview. “What it really boiled down to is that the market we were serving simply wasn’t big enough,” said Scott. The bank was purchased by Regions in the late ‘90’s, after being empty for a number of years.

Scott said that all the branch’s employees had been absorbed into the branch system in the Anderson area. The nearest Regions bank after Friday’s closing will be the office at 304 N. Main Street in Anderson, according to Scott. “It was a tough decision to close the Williamston office, especially because it is so far to the next branch.”

Regions Banks were thrust onto the front pages of many newspapers earlier this year, when their Gulf Coast operations were hard hit by Katrina. The bank, in advertising generated within days of the storm’s passing, pledged to rebuild and to stand by their customers in that area.

Scott stressed that the Williamston branch was not a casualty of the stress created by Katrina on the bank’s resources. “This was simply a business decision made well before this year’s hurricane season even began.”

Four arrested in local shooting

By Stan Welch

A Williamston man was shot and killed Monday, Dec. 19, as he returned home with his girlfriend. The shooting was apparently related to a domestic situation. The body was discovered in early afternoon.

 Walter Glenn Fowler, 43, died of two gunshot wounds to the chest. The  Anderson County Coroner Greg Shore had scheduled an autopsy to be conducted Tuesday morning at Newberry Hospital. “Apparently, Mr. Fowler and his live in girlfriend, Connie Millwood, returned to their home, where they were confronted by her estranged husband, Michael Millwood. He had been waiting in the woods nearby for the two to return. Words were exchanged and shots were fired.”

 According to the incident report filed by ACSO Deputy G.. J. Turner, the Mauldin Police Department reported to ACSO that an individual had come to their headquarters and reported shooting someone at the Hampton Road location. Deputies were dispatched and found the body of Fowler outside the locked residence. Millwood was taken into custody by the Mauldin Police, and subsequently transported to the Anderson County Detention Center. He has been charged with murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.

Chief Tim Busha, of the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, stated that Connie Millwood was also taken into custody as an accessory before and after the fact. The press release issued by the ACSO states that she altered and helped Michael Millwood alter evidence directly related to the shooting. This incident occurred at the Joe Black Road address mentioned below.

 Also arrested were Michelle Leith Millwood, the Millwoods’ daughter, age 20, for two charges of accessory before and after the fact. She, according to the press release, provided her father with transportation to and from the scene of the crime, as well as altering evidence; and Jeffrey Corey Hooks, age 23, as accessory before and after the fact for altering evidence.

  Michelle Millwood and Hooks share an address at 825 Joe Black Road, Lot 24, though the exact nature of their relationship is not known at this time.

Connie Marie Millwood is described as 43, 5’7", 160 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes.

All four were still in custody at the Anderson County Detention Center at press time.

 According to the ACSO press release issued by Public Information Officer Susann Griffin, Michelle drove her father to the Hampton Road location early Monday morning, where he laid in wait in some nearby woods until Fowler and Connie Millwood arrived. He then shot Fowler twice with a .30-.30 high powered rifle. He then called his daughter to come and get him, which she did, accompanied by Hooks.

 Michael Millwood then drove to the Mauldin Police Department and turned himself in for the crime. At 12:58, The ACSO received a call from the MPD informing them of Millwood’s actions, and a deputy was dispatched to the crime scene.

 Shore said there were two bullet holes in the house, but added that at least one of them might have been made by the shot that killed Fowler. “There was an exit wound, so that round might have hit the house as well. The pet dog was also killed, whether before or during the shooting of Fowler is unknown at this time.” Shore added that Fowler had a shotgun with him at the time but did not use it.

 In another case which occurred last week, Jeremy Fowler, no known relation to the deceased victim listed above, wanted on several counts of auto theft, possession of stolen property, was finally taken into custody following a high speed chase that resulted in the burning of three vehicles, two of them Sheriff’s department vehicles.

 An ACSO deputy had gone to the home of Fowler’s parents seeking to contact Fowler, who had previously eluded police officers during a high speed chase in a stolen car. Fowler was on the porch at his parents’ home when Deputy J.R. Brown arrived. Fowler escaped by running into a nearby subdivision, where he approached a resident and asked for a ride to the store. The resident refused, and Fowler walked to a nearby home and stole a van that was warming up in the driveway. The vehicle was recovered soon after and returned to its owner after being processed for evidence.

 The next day Fowler apparently stole an Isuzu Trooper SUV which was also warming up in the driveway of an apartment, while the owner got their children ready for school. Fowler was caught later after two deputies chased him into a field of dried kudzu, which their engines caught on fire while they chased Fowler on foot.  All three vehicles burned.

Woodmont High earns Palmetto Gold Award

Woodmont High School was among twenty-one Greenville County schools and two career centers that earned cash awards recognizing high levels of academic achievement and high rates of student academic improvement through the Palmetto Gold and Silver Awards program.

As a Gold Award recipient, Woodmont High will receive $14,103.

“These awards reflect the hard work over the past year of students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members to advance student achievement,” said Superintendent Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher.

The Education Accountability Act established the Palmetto Gold and Silver Awards Program to recognize and reward schools that attain high levels of absolute performance and schools that attain high rates of improvement. The specific criteria used to identify recipient schools are established by the Accountability Division of the Education Oversight Committee (EOC).

For elementary and middle schools, the qualification criteria are based on the PACT results. For secondary schools, the qualification criteria are based on HSAP and Exit Exam results, high school graduation rates, and student eligibility for LIFE scholarships. These same data are used in the report card absolute and improvement ratings.

Career centers, special schools, and academic magnet schools are eligible to be recognized in accordance with the criteria set by the EOC; however, primary schools (having below grade 3 only) are not eligible to be recognized under the EOC criteria because of a lack of student achievement data.

Each winning school will receive an award flag, a certificate and a portion of $3 million in state funds earmarked for the awards program. The financial award is determined by several factors, including the type of award received, student enrollment, student attendance, teacher attendance and dropout rates. The minimum amount for a Gold award is $1,500, and the minimum for a Silver award is $1,000.

West Pelzer officials approve phone by poll

The questionable practice of polling by elected officials apparently is not confined to County Council. At the most recent meeting of the West Pelzer Town Council, held on December 12, Councilmembers approved an amendment to the budget in order to provide Municipal Judge Roger Scott with a cell phone/radio unit to allow him to communicate with law enforcement officers of the town. The estimated cost per year will be $600.

 The questionable aspect of the decision is the fact that it was not made in open session of the Council, but through a polling process outside the confines of the SC Freedom of Information Act.

 At the Dec. 12th meeting, the budget amendment was on the agenda, and a document approving the change, and signed by four Council members, was available. The document reads, in part, as follows: “As specifically approved by the below members of Town Council, Roger Scott, Municipal Judge of the Town of West Pelzer, has been approved to have Nextel mobile phone service for the purpose of administering Town business in his capacities as Municipal Judge.”

 That document was signed by four members of Council. Two of the members, Joe Turner and Marshall King, signed the document on November 21; Council members Maida Kelly and Pete Davis signed it a day later, on Nov. 22. Judge Scott also inexplicably signed it on that day, and had it notarized by Town Clerk Beth Elgin.

 The signed and notarized agreement could not possibly have been approved in open session of the Town Council, as the FOIA requires. The dates and the notarization makes the timing of the document clear; a review of Town minutes makes it equally clear that no session of the town council occurred at a time which could explain the authorization. The vote was apparently achieved by polling and in the absence of a legally convened meeting of the Town Council.

The Piedmont Public Service District Board of Commissioners also recently ran into a similar situation which caused some reaction by Board member Frankie Garrett.

Phone calls were made by Chairman Marsha Rogers to commissioners about placing a veterans monument in front of the Piedmont Community Building.

Garrett stated in a PPSD meeting that he was not contacted about the proposal or included in the decision. Rogers stated that she had attempted to contact him and the other commissioners on short notice but had been unable to reach Garrett.

The monument was allowed to be placed at the site, however there was no official vote taken in a convened meeting.

The announcement by Anderson County that a park in Powdersville will be named in honor of Dolly Cooper has also led to questions about whether the decision was conducted properly. Several council members contacted at the time did not recall casting any vote, either to purchase the 48 acre tract, nor to name it for Mr. Cooper.

The Freedom of Information Handbook for County Government, published and distributed by the South Carolina Association of Counties states that “Practice of using telephone polls to handle matters over which the public body has authority would most probably not comply with the (Freedom of Information) Act.”

 In addition, the text of the SCFOIA itself prohibits the use of  “polling of members in executive session” to commit the public body to a course of action. The law goes on to state that “No chance meeting, social meeting, or electronic communication may be used in circumvention of the spirit of the requirements of this chapter to act upon a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power.”





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