Local lineman attends Statehouse ceremony
Justin Cheek represented Marlboro Electric Cooperative at the S.C. Statehouse Tuesday for the designation of Linemen Appreciation Day. He was one of 40 electric utility linemen who stood with Gov. Henry McMaster and legislators as they honored the more than 2,000 lineworkers across the state.
Cheek, a first class lineman with the cooperative, attended a news conference where the governor read a proclamation, and legislators unveiled a special automobile license plate to honor linemen.
Part of the governor’s proclamation stated, “Linemen are the backbone of South Carolina’s electric utility system and deserve recognition for their work when the weather is good, after catastrophic events, and at all times in between.”
“It takes a special type of person to do that work,” said Rep. Mike Forrester, R-Spartanburg. “Most people know you have to be brave, but it takes a heart for service and the ability to be content doing hard work often without thanks, fanfare or attention. I don’t know of a group of people who are more universally humble, dependable and diligent.”
Legislators referenced Ice Storm Pax in 2014, the record-breaking rain and flooding in 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 as examples of the extreme conditions linemen face during repair work.
After last year’s flood, “the localized damage was so bad in some areas that two separate cooperatives saw their systems completely dark for a period of time,” said Forrester, who is chairman of the House Labor, Commerce and Industry (LCI) Public Utilities Subcommittee.
Forbes magazine’s annual listing of the 10 most dangerous jobs includes lineworkers, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke Rankin, R-Myrtle Beach. “Most of us don’t think about the realities of the job. A safety-first attitude isn’t a cliché but is a matter of life and death,” Rankin said.
The dangers of the job and the personal sacrifice of the employees were noted by several speakers.
“We expect it (electricity) all the time and most especially during times when the weather is extreme,” said Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla, chairman of the Senate LCI Committee. “When most of us are getting ready to enjoy a snow day with our excited children, linemen are preparing to be away from their families for an extended period of time.”
“I want to make sure that we don’t forget the other side of that sacrifice,” said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley Co., chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “For many linemen, there are families at home who are also making a sacrifice. A family is doing without a husband or a father during sometimes special and sometimes scary times. I want to make sure that we honor the sacrifice of the linemen’s families.”
Legislation is working its way through the House and Senate that would authorize a new automobile license plate to honor linemen. The plate’s proposed design, unveiled at the news conference, features an outline of a lineman at the top of a power pole. The state Department of Motor Vehicles must approve the design.
Cheek said he was honored to be able to represent his co-workers and his electric cooperative. “Most consumers seem to appreciate our work, but it’s really special to know the state’s leaders acknowledge it, too,” he said.
Marlboro Electric Cooperative provides power in Marlboro and Dillon counties. Twenty independent, member-owned electric cooperatives build and maintain what is collectively the state's largest power distribution system. They serve 70 percent of the state over 75,000 miles of co-op power lines — more than all the other utilities in S.C. combined.