Bluffton officials said Friday they still plan to move forward with a proposal to buy property near the May River in an attempt to prevent pollution from entering the waterway, but they aren't moving fast enough for one resident.
The town has planned to buy land near the Stoney Crest Campground off S.C. 46 near Stoney Creek since 2011. The project would include modifying ditches that have moved water through the area so fast that the wetlands' natural cleaning capabilities have been "short-circuited," according to stormwater management director Kim Jones. The project would slow runoff so pollutants could be filtered out before reaching the river's headwaters.
Jimmy McIntire, who lives near the banks of the river and is a vocal supporter of its restoration, said this week he did not think the town was moving fast enough -- or at all -- on the project.
"For three years now this project was touted as the biggest bang for our buck," he told Town Council on Tuesday. "Everyone says the May River is the highest priority, but when are you going to do the heavy lifting?"
The town has been negotiating with the Niver family, but no deal has been reached. Town officials have expressed a willingness in the past to apply eminent domain, but town manager Anthony Barrett said Friday it is not time to "take legal action on behalf of the May River."
"If and when it became necessary... (Town Council) will do so," he wrote in an email.
The town has called the project near Stoney Creek a "high priority" because it could affect about 4,900 acres near the May River's headwaters. The area was also the site of a septic tank breach in 2009 at the campground's septic field, in which raw sewage pooled on the ground. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said at the time that none of the raw sewage reached the river. DHEC has closed parts of the headwaters to shellfishing because of pollution.
The town met with the Niver family in November "to work with them to find a solution to the complicated water quality issues we face in the May River," Jones wrote in an email. It is not known how much of the family's land would be needed for the project because the town has not created plans yet, Jones said.
The town has surveyed the land and hopes to hire an engineering firm this spring to start design work, she said. The town has set aside $85,000 for the work, Jones wrote.
Attempts Friday to reach the Nivers for comment were unsuccessful.
The project is one of many proposals to try to clean or slow stormwater runoff before it reaches the river, parts of which are closed to oyster harvesting because of high counts of fecal coliform, which comes from human and animal waste.
Mayor Lisa Sulka said the town has not abandoned the project, but "it's going to take some time."
"We've got to work on (the family's) time frame," she said Friday. "Everyone is working together right now, which is exactly what we want."
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