In July, we opposed the lopping down of a live oak in Beaufort to make way for parking. "In city of Beaufort, a tree just isn't a tree" read the headline.
The same could be said of Bluffton, where residents are hopping mad about a developer cutting down 6,000 trees along U.S. 278 as well as a proposal to allow additional development near the protected May River.
It's true too on Hilton Head Island, where citizens are bemoaning the loss of 500 trees cut down to make way for the new Shelter Cove Towne Centre.
In fact, across Beaufort County, the protection of trees, waterways and wildlife is a core value to which residents do not simply give lip service. On three occasions since 2000, county voters overwhelmingly agreed to pay a little more in property taxes to fund the county's Rural and Critical Lands Program, a land-preservation effort that saves environmentally sensitive property from development. As a result, more than 22,000 acres of selected land have been forever protected from development while vulnerable waterways have been insulated from runoff through land buys and conservation easements.
We urge voters to maintain their commitment and grant an additional $20 million to the program at the polls Nov. 4.
While the program should not continue indefinitely -- not all land is environmentally sensitive, and development is important to the county's future -- there's more work to do. The Beaufort County Open Land Trust that manages the program will use the new money to preserve sensitive land near the Okatie River watershed and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Opponents say the continuation of the program will hinder the county's economic development strides. We disagree. Preservation of pristine property is an economic development tool that helps lure like-minded business owners, workers, visitors and residents to the area. It also helps deter unwanted development that could threaten the very ecosystem that makes the area so special.
Additionally, the program is a fair way (in many cases superior to zoning) to convince landowners to think big picture and do what benefits fellow residents. Property owners volunteer to participate in the program. They are paid for their property or given tax breaks after agreeing to include their land in conservation easements that permanently disallow development.
The continuation of the program won't unduly burden taxpayers either, adding just $4 to the bill for an owner-occupied $100,000 home or about $10 on a bill for a $250,000 home. That's about $11.50 more to a bill on a $200,000 second home, or about $30 more on a bill for a $500,000 second home. And all homeowners' property values are bolstered by preservation of sensitive land and vulnerable waterways.
To assume the scenic surroundings will remain so without some county interference is naive, especially with predictions that development will soon tick upward.
A yes vote Nov. 4 will send a message that trees aren't just trees in Beaufort County. They're what makes the area special.