Local members of the League of Women Voters were urged to push elected officials toward conservation and environmentally responsible development, including backing a referendum for buying land, during a panel discussion Wednesday in Bluffton.
Residents should lobby their elected representatives to curb sprawl before "we have a million rooftops bringing in a wonderful tax base -- and no one would want to live here," said Garrett Budds, director of land protection for the Beaufort County Open Land Trust.
Budds sought support for a countywide bond referendum to pay for land preservation. The Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Board has recommended the referendum be held next year, but it must first be approved by the Beaufort County Council before it can appear on the ballot, Budds said.
About 40 people attended the "Saving Our Rivers and Lands" forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Area and held at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church. Fran Holt, the league's vice president for programming, said Wednesday's topic was chosen to educate the group about the possibility of a referendum.
Over the past decade, voters have approved $90 million in two referendums for the program, which has protected more than 175,000 acres. About $10 million is left, and the fund needs to be replenished, land trust officials have said.
"It'd be a real shame if (the trust) worked so hard for 10 years, only to let it die in the current economic climate," Budds said.
Panelist Fran Marscher, former editor of The Island Packet, described her Bluffton upbringing and how industries that relied on oyster harvesting, blue-crab canning and shrimping have steadily disappeared.
"The question will be, 'is there a will in this community to turn things around?'" she said.
David Harter, panelist and chairman of the Port Royal Sound Foundation, said the Lowcountry's natural features are "ours to kill or to save."
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.