Saving sensitive land better route for county

info@islandpacket.comOctober 21, 2013 

Beaufort County officials are doing themselves no favors by being coy about their long-term plans for 43.5 acres near Callawassie Island.

The possibility of a trash transfer station there has area residents up in arms and rightfully so. The property, off S.C. 170 near the Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority headquarters, is in an environmentally sensitive area, abutting a marsh and next to nearly 100 acres already in the county's land preservation program.

The county has said it has no firm plans for the 43.5 acres purchased in May. But officials mentioned a countywide solid waste transfer and recycling station as a possible use.

The reason for that: Hickory Hill, the landfill now used by the county, is expected to be full in six to 13 years. When that happens, the county needs to find an alternative, and the nearest landfills are about 100 miles away.

Officials say a transfer station could be used as a stopover, where local trash would be compacted before it is taken to another landfill. That means fewer trips to a landfill, lowering the county's costs, says Jim Minor, the county's solid waste manager

That all makes sense, but using this site for a transfer station does not. Surely, there are better staging areas. The only thing this parcel has going for it is a somewhat central location for a countywide facility.

Councilman Brian Flewelling, who represents the area, has the right idea: Transferring all but a small piece of the property to the county's Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program.

Flewelling says he offered a resolution at the Oct. 14 County Council meeting based on information the council received in closed session.

But Councilman Bill McBride objected to the resolution being put to a vote at that meeting because it could jeopardize the confidentiality of the council's secret session.

That's the wrong approach to this and many other issues.

The council's handling of this property has been too opaque.As with most land purchases, the parcel wasn't identified before the council voted to buy it. In addition, unlike most land purchases, the property's future use is up in the air. No wonder people who live near it are upset. They didn't know it was being purchased, and they don't know what will happen with it now that the county owns it.

The good news is that Flewelling's resolution is not dead. It is to go the council's Natural Resources Committee and move toward a full council vote.

The council should keep in mind the significant investment the county has made in protecting land and waterways in that area. The county has purchased more than 600 acres for more than $8 million along S.C. 170 from the Broad River to the area of the parcel in question, according to Reed Armstrong of the Coastal Conservation League.

There's no harm in slowing the process to give the idea of preserving this property a full vetting.

Unlike the decision to purchase the property and subsequent closed-door discussions, that vetting should be done in the open, with input from those affected by what happens on that parcel. That includes all of us. We all have a stake in protecting our natural resources and protecting the investment we've made through the Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program.

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