Monday, January 11, 2016 Blog

The First Day of Session

by Alan Hancock

Tomorrow, the Second Session of the 121st South Carolina General Assembly will convene at the State House in Columbia. The decisions your elected leaders will make over the next six months will affect how we protect our natural landscapes, our abundant wildlife, clean water, and quality of life here on the coast, and across South Carolina.  

This is what Coastal Conservation League will be advocating for at the State House this session.

First, we need to reform how South Carolina invests in infrastructure. We are working to change the current system that encourages wasteful spending on new projects instead of fixing the roads we already have. Our elected officials have the opportunity to pass legislation this year to force the Department of Transportation and the State Infrastructure Bank to address core issues of transparency and resource management that are badly needed in a state where politics have controlled highway spending for too long. If we simply increase the gas tax without reforming the spending structure itself, as some business and construction companies advocate, there is no accountability or protection to ensure our highway funds will be spent on statewide priorities. History has shown that if we maintain the status quo, our taxpayer dollars will just go to build projects like I-73 and I-526 that waste money, destroy wetlands, and make traffic worse.

Second, there are bills at the State House that threaten our coast. Shoreline management legislation is under attack and the fight is led by out-of-state developers to facilitate development on Captain Sams Spit, a shifting sand bar on the south end of Kiawah Island. The amended bill now undermines the original intent of the legislation. What was once a bill formulated from the science-based recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Committee is now a lackluster bill that ignores key elements of how we manage shoreline development up and down our coast. This is a statewide issue: Taxpayers across the state will be on the hook for the inevitable damage from this risky precedent. We are also watching legislation that aims to exempt about 90% of Dorchester County from the vital Coastal Management Program, which would allow developers to endanger Four Holes Swamp, with its thousand-year-old swamp tupelos and bald cypresses, and other wetlands where we kayak and fish.

Third, we will fight for the legal safeguards on which South Carolina’s natural resources and wildlife depend. One is called the “automatic stay.” Without the protections of an automatic stay, Captain Sams Spit developers could have built a concrete bulkhead on the Spit that would cause irreversible damage to the fragile dunes, while a court is deciding on the legality of the bulkhead. If the SC Supreme Court ruled against the developers after they had built the bulkhead, Captain Sams Spit would have been irreversibly damaged. Without the automatic stay, construction would be happening on the Spit right now. Another natural resource safeguard is the Pollution Control Act. We will strive to maintain citizens’ right to hold polluters accountable for past unlawful pollution.

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