As commercial and residential development along the S.C. 170 corridor has picked up in recent years, so, too, have efforts from Beaufort County to preserve environmentally sensitive areas near the headwaters of the Okatie River.
The Beaufort County Council recently decided to spend nearly $5 million to buy 110 acres of undeveloped forest near Okatie’s Old Field Golf Club.
The land will be added to the county’s ever-growing Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program.
“It’s very ecologically important,” Lisa Lord, the program’s director of land conservation, said earlier this week.
“The property has extremely mature forest,” she said. “These types of maritime environments are really important for migratory birds.”
Lord said there “just isn’t much of this type of habitat left in the county.”
“Most of it has been developed,” she said. “Everyone wants to live on the water.”
In addition to preserving bird and wildlife species, preserving the land could help protect water quality in the Okatie River, Lord said.
“If (the property) was developed it would increase stormwater runoff,” which can carry pollutants from new homes and commercials spaces into the river, she said.
A new animal shelter is planned for an existing county property adjacent to the 110 acres recently sold to the county by property owners Sue and Ed Olsen.
“It’s a large beautiful piece of property, and it just happens to be right next to a property we already own,” deputy county administrator Josh Gruber said earlier this week. “So in the future, we may consider connecting the properties a series of walking trails and possibly build a dog park.”
Despite support from Rural and Critical Lands leaders and the majority of the Beaufort County Council, not all county officials are on board with spending $5 million on the land.
“I’m opposed to purchasing this property,” County Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch said, adding that the county’s philosophy on land preservation boils down to “let’s just buy everything” without regard to the cost to taxpayers.
Councilman Rick Caporale — who along with Bensch, voted against the land purchase last week — agreed, but acknowledged the Rural and Critical Lands program has proven popular with county voters.
Voters have approved more than $100 million in bond sales since 2000 to fund the program.
Since 2000, the program has “over 21,000 acres for conservation, parks, buffers, scenic vistas and for preservation of valuable economic and natural resources,” according to county documents.