Beaufort News

The Local Life: Find balance between economy, environment

Communities are told again and again that they must choose between jobs or protecting the environment -- and too many communities immediately believe they must make this dire choice.

This false choice has been ramped up in our difficult economic times, and now more than ever when such a claim is made, it should send up a red flag to the public and decision makers.

A recent example of the either-or fallacy between economics and the environment was last year's proposal of a megamall at the headwaters of the Okatie River. The developer claimed this mall would be a huge source of job creation for Jasper County residents. This was the central justification for that project.

Promoters ignited emotions in this vulnerable economic time presumably to prevent a rational assessment of the likelihood that such jobs would really appear. If all opponents could be painted as "anti-jobs," then their concerns would be rendered less important.

In the case of this proposed mall, both the economics and environment were stacked against the project. Malls overall have been falling into decline across the country -- and this one was asking for a tax break to make its numbers work.

Further, the proposed location was geographically closer to population cores in Beaufort County, not Jasper. Even if jobs had materialized, there was a high likelihood that jobs would go to residents of Beaufort, not Jasper.

We are facing a particularly egregious example of this false choice with the proposed Savannah River deepening. The Army Corps of Engineers Economic Analysis of this project states that zero additional cargo will come into the Port of Savannah as a result of the proposed dredging. Zero.

In other words, we deepen, we get 3 million containers a year. We don't deepen, we get 3 million containers a year. There will be nothing additional coming into the port if we deepen. This is however not what you are hearing from the Georgia Ports Authority.

"Those of us at Georgia Ports ... believe that, by not deepening, we will lose steamship services, jobs and business opportunities for the state and region. There are over 300,000 people depending on that not happening," said Jamie McCurry, Georgia Ports' director of administration.

McCurry's statement is a perfect example of this either-or tactic; it seems as if 300,000 people will lose their jobs if the proposed dredging is not approved. "Jobs vs. environment" sells, especially during an economic downturn.

But this false argument only works if the public and elected officials remain ignorant of the facts.

What is the real benefit to the Savannah deepening? Efficiency.

The Army Corps of Engineers report said, "The same volume of cargo is assumed to move through Savannah Harbor, however, a deepening project will allow shippers to load their vessels more efficiently."

Efficiency does not create or protect jobs for Longshoremen, nor does it bring additional port traffic -- at least according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers it doesn't. Efficiency puts more money in the pockets of the CEOs of the corporations that ship goods from overseas (Walmart, Target, Home Depot), it puts more money in the pockets of the shipping companies, and it saves foreign manufacturers money. So yes, it might create jobs -- overseas.

Beaufort and Jasper counties are suffering under this recession and the pressure is high to reject all values beyond promised money for the coffers. Both counties are doing the right thing by using the lull in development to prepare and to protect what matters.

Beaufort County is pursuing a code overhaul, with SmartGrowth as the guiding vision. Jasper County is undertaking a dramatic revision of stormwater ordinances to avoid some of the water-quality effects that Beaufort County suffered in its development frenzy. Our two counties are hard at work on plans and regulations that will preserve what defines us as Lowcountry counties -- what sets us apart and enables us to compete with other locations vying for economic investment.

Of course we cannot prevent folks from falling for the beguiling promises of jobs. Our job is to recognize the fallacy of this choice, educate ourselves and our representatives and, continue to work hard to attract new residents and businesses that will respect our natural resources and quality of life.

Otherwise, we jump at this false choice at our own peril -- and that of generations to come.