Monday, June 6, 2016 Blog

Beating Goliath. Beating Goliath twice. Lines in the sand. Courage on Climate. Goose the manatee.

by Andy Hollis


Beautiful is the best way to describe Acacia Mack’s description of her childhood home on James Island Creek.  Ms. Mack, whose family has lived in a bucolic family compound on James Island for more than three generations, says it is her “Battery, Waterfront Park and Pineapple all wrapped up in one.”  Diane Knich writes in the Post and Courier that the I 526 extension would have obliterated this small community of relatives and neighbors, passing within 80 feet of the modest houses at the end of Delaney Drive, a quiet dirt road off of Riverland Drive.

Diane’s article describes the ten year long “David vs. Goliath” battle that ended last week when the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) withdrew the funding for the expressway.  The STIB’s decision means that a dozen African American neighborhoods like the one on Delaney Drive finally have relief from the specter of having their homes condemned or being engulfed in noise, pollution and concrete.

One of the most courageous and persistent “Davids” in this altercation was James Islander and NIX 526 founder, Robin Welch, whose family has also been on the island for generations.  Robin’s assessment of the victory is simple,  “If you asked me how we won, how we beat Goliath, I would say, we fought for love.”

It’s hard to put it more clearly than that!  (Don’t miss the beautiful pictures in this article by Wade Spees.)

Besides protecting the environment and indigenous communities on Johns and James Islands, the 526 battle revealed fundamental flaws in the way South Carolina funds highway projects — specifically, the fact that billions of dollars of transportation funds were controlled by just two state legislators.  So this year, after almost a decade of effort to reform the spending system, the Legislature did exactly that.  The roads bill, passed in the waning hours of the session and now on Governor Haley’s desk, places STIB decisions under control of the Department of Transportation, and requires that STIB funding must go to projects that address prioritized state transportation needs.

Although the DOT is not a paragon of objectivity or innovation, the agency does follow a system of project prioritization (Act 114, which the Conservation League helped pass in 2007); it has publicly adopted a comprehensive state plan, and it is a vastly more transparent agency than the covert, opaque STIB.  Now it is up to citizens to ensure that the state transportation plan includes more than asphalt and bypasses.

The Legislature also produced a beachfront bill that they, and we, can be proud of.  Instead of allowing the building line on the front beach to move seaward, as has been the case for 25 years — allowing houses to be built during temporary accretion cycles — the line will be permanently set in 2017.  The Shoreline Management Blue Ribbon Committee two years ago recommended permanently setting the line, but the amendment was held hostage the entire session by lobbyists for the Kiawah Island developers, who wanted to delay setting the line until 2020.  2017 was the compromise date.

Ironically, setting the permanent line in 2017 will actually be more restrictive for the majority of beaches along our coast.  It remains to be seen whether the delay will help or hurt the Kiawah developers with Captain Sams Spit.  The Post and Courier commends the Legislature for passing this important improvement to South Carolina’s beachfront protection program.

One South Carolinian I’m particularly proud of is former Greenville Congressman Bob Inglis.  Congressman Inglis was defeated in the Republican primary a few terms ago because he was brave enough to call for action on climate change.  Congress’ loss has become the planet’s gain, because Inglis is now working full time promoting climate action as a conservative cause. (In the grand tradition of Teddy Roosevelt…)  He joins other prominent business people, including Michael Bloomberg and Henry Paulsen, arguing that climate science shouldn’t be a partisan debate, and that it’s time for a productive, thoughtful discussion about which policies will be most effective in this battle for the future of the planet.

It is not clear whether warmer waters in South Carolina or over-development in Florida have enticed manatees to Lowcountry waters.  As Bo Petersen writes in the Post and Courier, we expect 50 of these gentle giants to grace us with their presence this summer.  One of those is named Goose, (for reasons Bo does not explain.)

Al Segars with the Department of Natural Resources, who rescued Goose from potential hypothermia in the Cooper River last year, gives some important advice about manatees.  Don’t bother them.  If you see one, feel fortunate, and then leave it alone!

I hope you had a great weekend!



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