by Ashley Demosthenes, Jim Newsome, and Dana Beach
You may recall that on a sunny afternoon in early January, the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, the State Ports Authority, the Coastal Conservation League and the Southern Environmental Law Center celebrated a milestone achievement stemming from months of close collaboration and fueled by a steadfast commitment to working together to achieve a common goal. A goal not only supported by the respective organizations but one that puts public benefit over politics. This collaborative agreement facilitates the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project while preventing degradation of the Cooper River Corridor. As Gov. Haley said at the signing ceremony on Jan. 5, “I want you to look at my sister states — they are not doing this today. They are struggling today. They are about to spend a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of effort. They are going to be fighting for years to come, but not us. Today is a celebration. Today is a day we say yes to both conservation and business — that they can be married together … . This was not easy. Understand that I know the blood, sweat and tears that went into this. And understand that I know you had to sacrifice to get to this day, but I want to thank you on behalf of everyone in South Carolina.”
We are proud to announce that the recent approval by the state Joint Bond Review Committee of the agreement’s $5 million land protection fund has already produced its first achievement. Last Wednesday, the Lowcountry Open Land Trust closed on the purchase of the 425-acre French Quarter Plantation off of Highway 41. This parcel is nestled among a critical network of properties within the Cooper River Corridor and more importantly is a natural extension of the 1,682-acre Keystone Tract acquired last year utilizing Boeing mitigation funds.
With this acquisition, additional sections of a scenic highway corridor are perpetually preserved, and habitat connectivity between the Francis Marion National Forest and the Cooper River is further enhanced. It is exciting to see how the Port’s investment in the Corridor is building on the success of Boeing’s mitigation project, ultimately protecting our public trust lands and waters for all to enjoy. Both Keystone and French Quarter represent high priority conservation properties and play an integral role in protecting the ecological, cultural and historic fabric of the Corridor.
It is important to understand the port’s investment is the latest in a long line of private landowner and business community investment that has set up the Cooper River Corridor for success: Nucor, Mepkin Abbey, BP, at least a dozen families, and of course, Boeing. From this impressive list of contributions to conservation, none was given with the Harbor Deepening in mind, but all were critical components of a greenbelt envisioned by conservation groups to protect priority lands and waterways, a greenbelt that includes the storied and invaluable Cooper River Corridor.
The port’s willingness to create a fund for protecting strategic properties along the Cooper River, as well as supporting continued funding of the state’s Conservation Bank, builds an authentic, collaborative partnership that will both improve and protect this community’s quality of life for years to come. That said, let’s not overlook that this particular agreement also sets the stage for the SPA, an agency representing $45 billion in annual economic activity, to move forward with the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project, safeguarding the 20,000 companies in two dozen states that rely on our harbor for access to overseas production and markets.
There may be a certain irony in the revelation that a region’s legacy of conservation is in fact a tool for economic development. Too often it’s said that the two are mutually exclusive. Fortunately, that’s not the case, as demonstrated by this precedential collaborative achievement.
As Gov. Haley pointed out, Lowcountry Open Land Trust, the SPA and the Coastal Conservation League “sat at a table and didn’t say ‘no.’ [We] said ‘yes.’ ”
We have accomplished far more for the public good by working together toward a mutually beneficial outcome. Our unique, cultural and natural resources and our thriving place-based economy define us. Protecting both of these assets, now and into the future, will ultimately enable our community’s sustainability and success.
Ashley Demosthenes is executive director of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust. Jim Newsome is president and CEO of the State Ports Authority. Dana Beach is executive director of the Coastal Conservation League.
This piece originally ran in the Post & Courier on Monday, March 9, 2015. View here.