Beaufort News

Sembler seeks to fill an acre of wetlands on 40-acre site

The Sembler Co., the developer that owns about 40 acres of a planned shopping center, has asked to fill about one acre of wetlands to prepare the site for construction.

Sembler last year planned to develop all 280 acres of Okatie Crossings but let lapse an option to purchase the rest of the land when the company's bid for tax incentives drew opposition in the legislature. The incentives bill failed last year, but a similar bill has been reintroduced this year.

Sembler officials applied to the state Department of Health & Environmental Control last month for permission to fill the wetlands, which are behind the Zaxby's restaurant on S.C. 170 near the Okatie River.

Stormwater from the wetlands work would drain into the river, according to the application. Fecal coliform levels in the river already exceed federal water-quality standards for shellfish harvesting.

Sembler officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Coastal Conservation League, one of several factions to oppose Sembler's plans last year, objects to the company's latest permit request.

The league, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, says Sembler's application contains incorrect and incomplete information.

In a Jan. 10 letter to DHEC officials, the league says the company should be required to present plans to compensate for the lost wetlands and to ensure the work complies with federally funded efforts to reduce pollution discharges into the river.

The league also says the state should consider how the entire development -- not just Sembler's 40 acres -- will affect the river.

"To do otherwise would be to permit the project in a piecemeal fashion," the letter reads.

Horne Properties, the developer that owns the rest of Okatie Crossings, still plans to develop its property independently of Sembler, president Doug Horne said.

"We're doing our project, and they're doing theirs," Horne said.

Horne said his company could use the proposed tax incentives for retail businesses recently reintroduced in the legislature by Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Ridgeland, to help build a $6 million road between S.C. 170 and U.S. 278.

But the company will not lobby to push the incentives through the legislature, Horne said.

He said lawmakers should know any assistance they can provide would spur development at Okatie Crossings, for which the city of Hardeeville has already established a separate agreement for business incentives.

"It would be nice to get some more help," Horne said.