Fifteen years have passed since Bluffton signed its first development agreement, setting the stage for immense change, some of it for the better and some of it for the worse.
Before and after development agreements were signed, town officials pledged to protect the May River from harm, and that pledge continues today. You can see it in the priorities listed by the people running for Town Council in Tuesday's election.
Unfortunately, that promise has not been kept. The upper reaches of the river have been closed to shellfish harvesting for four years now. Despite good intentions and lots of study, an honest, best assessment of the situation today is that it hasn't gotten worse. Much of that can be attributed to the Great Recession and the near halt of construction in the area.
But that's changing, and what Bluffton needs today are leaders willing to shake up the status quo, think outside the development-agreement box and rethink Bluffton's future and what the town wants to be in the decades ahead. That approach must extend to other issues facing the town, including how to reconcile conflicts between residents and businesses in Old Town on noise and parking and the smartest way to encourage economic development.
Complacency is Bluffton's enemy.
The Town Council candidates who can best ensure that Bluffton is proactive rather than reactive in tackling tough issues are Charlie Wetmore and Larry Toomer, and we urge Bluffton voters to support them for the two seats on the five-member council up for election Tuesday.
Wetmore and Toomer would bring a great deal of experience to the council. Wetmore is a former council member, who has proved himself able to ask probing questions and do the homework necessary to make informed decisions. He takes the job seriously and goes beyond just attending meetings. He's already asking tough questions about the town's new business incubator and salary raises for Town Council.
Toomer brings a life-time of experience on local waterways. His knowledge of the ecosystem that defines Bluffton in many people's eyes is unequaled. Toomer owns two businesses in town, including a central feature of community life, the Bluffton Oyster Co. His perspective as a business owner, someone in the trenches every day trying to build a future for himself and his family, will enhance debate on many issues facing the town.
That includes what to do to restore the May River's water quality and protect it in the future. The river question reaches far beyond its shores. If that truly is a priority for the town, it affects decisions about where houses are built, what types of businesses to try to attract to the area and where schools and other public facilities, including roads, are located.
Toomer has been very involved in the town's efforts to figure out solutions for the May River. His professional associations include the S.C. Seafood Alliance and the S.C. Shrimpers Association. He's served on advisory panels for the state Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Sea Grant Consortium. His volunteer work includes the LowCountry Community Church and coaching softball in the county Parks and Leisure Services league.
For his part, Wetmore wasn't satisfied just getting elected to Town Council, where he served from 2007 to 2009. He's a graduate of the Municipal Association of South Carolina's Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government and the S.C. Economic Development Institute. His volunteer work has included the Bluffton High School Booster Club, the Greater Bluffton Pathways and Friends of the River.
Wetmore and Toomer are committed to the community and committed to taking it beyond a threshold of "it could be worse." Bluffton can be better, and Toomer and Wetmore can help it get there.