If you’ve made the trip to Savannah over the past several weeks, chances are you’ve noticed a drastic change of scenery on U.S. 17 just north of the Talmadge Bridge.
The trees lining a roughly mile-long stretch on the northwestern side roadway have been removed, exposing acre after acre of downed trees, former rice plantation fields, and one small dilapidated house.
The property, called Clydesdale Club Mitigation Bank, is owned by Florida-based South Coast Mitigation Group, LCC.
Work currently underway on the site involves leveling land, knocking down trees, and removing several earthen dikes to allow water from the Back River to flow freely into a tract of wetlands, according to firm’s attorney Stan Barnett.
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Barnett said earlier this week that many of trees that have been toppled were dead or dying because “hurricanes drove saltier water up into the area where the trees grew” in recent years.
The purpose of the mitigation bank project is to create a new tidal salt marsh, which the company can use sell as credits to other developers whose projects damage area waters and wetlands.
This effort is unrelated to the U.S. 17 widening project, which is overseen by the S.C. Department of Transportation.
The abandoned and debris-strewn house — now clearly visible from U.S 17 — has a crumbling roof, broken windows, and a sign in front warning against trespassing.
While it’s origins and past purpose remain somewhat mysterious, the structure has been in place for around a century, according to information from the Jasper County register of deeds office.
The earliest records show the roughly 800 square foot building was deeded around 1915 to a man named John Poindexter.
The one-story building is taxed as a rural single-family residence, but Jasper County assessor's office records going back to 1975 are unclear as to whether its main function was as a dwelling or simply equipment storage.
Barnett said he was unsure if the building will be demolished as part of the creation of the mitigation bank.
The Clydesdale Club Mitigation Bank stirred controversy in recent years, drawing criticism from environmental groups and a lawsuit from the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League.
The suit, which was ultimately dismissed in 2015 by the U.S. Court of Appeals, argued that the creation of new saltwater marshland would be detrimental to nearby freshwater wetlands.
South Coast disagreed, citing tests that showed the water inside the bank site is already saltier than the Back River, according to court documents.