Bluffton's May River is the main attraction this week during the community's annual Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival.
That focus should extend year-round and center on work to restore and protect its water quality. As you enjoy this weekend's many activities, be on the lookout for elected officials of all stripes. Ask them what they're doing to get the river back to good health. Don't let them speak in platitudes. Tell them to be specific. Tell them you expect to see progress.
As much as anything, they need to hear directly that you care about what happens to a river so integral to the town's identity that a whole week is devoted to celebrating its attributes.
Incremental progress is being made. About a half-mile of the river that had been downgraded to "restricted" for shellfish harvesting has been upgraded to "approved." While good news, town officials rightly noted that this didn't necessarily signal improved water quality because it wasn't clear whether that section of the river was ever impaired.
When the state closed about half the river to oyster harvesting in 2009, it shut down any areas lacking data to prove the water was sufficiently clean. Since then, DHEC has installed new testing stations, providing more precise data for smaller subsections of the river.
More significant was the announcement that developer Crescent Resources wants to move a minimum of 1,300 residential units from its New Riverside development in the watershed of the river's sensitive headwaters, a part of the river still closed to oyster harvesting. Under the proposal, which is up for review and public hearing Wednesday at the town's Planning Commission meeting, the company would put the units in the town's development rights bank until it decides on an alternative location for them, subject to town approval. Part of the proposal is to increase Palmetto Bluff's residential cap from 2,920 homes to 4,000 homes.
Moving homes out of the watershed feeding into the river's headwaters would be in keeping with experts' recommendations that the town move future development away from areas most sensitive to damage from stormwater runoff .
The developer also is donating six acres for a stormwater retention pond that the town wants to build using a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and town money. It would treat potentially polluting stormwater runoff from 300 surrounding acres, town officials said.
Bluffton has budgeted about $1 million this fiscal year to pay for projects in its "May River Action Plan." They include retrofitting stormwater systems in Hampton Hall and Hampton Lake, wetlands restoration, developing a watershed sewer master plan and the third phase of the Buck Island Road sewer service project.
But this is only the beginning. The budget also notes that the town might need to spend about $40 million over the next 25 years. "... This most important community project remains a daunting task and a huge commitment of taxpayer dollars from all sources.
The scope and time-frame for this work means officials need to hear regularly from the public that this is important to the people who live, work and visit here.
Let them hear from you.