Editorials

Vote ‘yes’ on Beaufort County referendum for land conservation

Experience Whitehall, prime Lady’s Island property ripe for development

Almost 10 acres at Whitehall on Lady's Island across from downtown Beaufort was preserved as parkland, thanks in part to the Beaufort County Rural and Critical Land Preservation Project.
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Almost 10 acres at Whitehall on Lady's Island across from downtown Beaufort was preserved as parkland, thanks in part to the Beaufort County Rural and Critical Land Preservation Project.

Beaufort County desperately needs a “yes” vote on the “general obligations bond” referendum question on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The local referendum offers the opportunity to continue funding one of the county’s greatest successes, the Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program.

A “yes” vote would provide $25 million to protect land in Beaufort County, thereby protecting waterways and the threatened Lowcountry way of life.

We say it is desperately needed because the county is one of the fastest growing areas in the state and nation.

A few stunning numbers from our reporting last year:

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The Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and Beaufort metro area was the 12th fastest-growing community in the nation from 2014 to 2015, and we remain in the top 50 out of 382 metro areas nationwide.

Beaufort County is the seventh-fastest growing county in the state, having added some 60,000 residents since 2000.

Add to that millions of visitors each year and the very attributes that attract people to the Lowcountry become threatened.

The greatest antidote is for the public to buy land or development rights. It is also helpful for citizens to put their own land into conservation easements, as many have done in the ACE Basin between here and Charleston, resulting in its label as one of the earth’s “last great places.”

If today’s voters in Beaufort County have any hope that future generations will consider it a great place, the Rural and Critical Lands program must thrive.

Over the last 50 years, this county has learned a lot about zoning, planning, land management ordinances, and comprehensive plans. All of that helped as the world has come to our doorsteps.

But nothing beats land ownership.

That is the best way to preserve traditional land uses and ways of life, to limit traffic congestion, to keep waterways clean, to safeguard wildlife, support the outdoors industry, and offer some quiet uses of natural settings to the public.

What may be less appreciated is the positive impact the program has on the economy.

A recent study showed that parks, trails and open spaces “enhance property values, infiltrate stormwater, improve air quality, attract visitors to the county, provide recreational opportunities for residents, improve human health, boost economic development, and bolster the farming and defense industries.”

The program has been used to help buffer the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, which is vital to the county’s economy.

It saves county taxpayers millions of dollars annually in stormwater fees.

The Rural and Critical Lands program has protected 24,000 acres in more than 100 tracts since 1998. The public has repeatedly voted to continue its funding.

The program has proven to be accountable to the public in both its administration and in its oversight by a countywide board.

A successful referendum would cost the average homeowner only $12 per year.

But it is much harder to set a value on what those dollars can accomplish.

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