Sunday, August 30, 2015 Blog

Orchids, bicycles and Treemageddon on the Coffin Corridor.

by Andy Hollis


This is a great time to explore the longleaf pine forests of the Lowcountry. Orange-fringed orchids, hooded pitcher plants, Marshallia grandifolia and other fall wildflowers are blooming. Mosquitos are taking a break. Birds are beginning to migrate. The temperature is delightful. Things couldn’t be more perfect. The best place to admire these native forests — among the most biologically diverse and the most threatened in North America — is the Francis Marion National Forest.

Bo Petersen’s article from the Post and Courier explains that it’s also time to weigh in on the forest management plan, which the Forest Service is now revising. Over the past 25 years, with encouragement from the Conservation League, the Service has made laudable progress restoring this beautiful place, and has won a number of national awards for it. The good news is that the draft plan expands on that excellent work.

The single greatest threat to the forest and the rest of the region is the encroachment of urban development. Bordering the Francis Marion, Cainhoy Plantation, zoned by the city of Charleston for 19,000 houses on 9,000 acres, would set the stage for irresolvable conflicts between the use of “controlled burns,” for ecological and safety reasons, and daily lives of 40 – 50,000 new residents (not to mention 40-50,000 additional cars).

Cainhoy also threatens the viability of the BP plant, across the creek. For that reason, BP has sued the city over the development approval. We remain hopeful that the owners will agree to protect the most important parts of Cainhoy, and thereby preserve the economy, history and biological integrity of this remarkable area.

Although you can bicycle in the Francis Marion from McClellanville to Huger, you can’t bicycle the 3,000 foot bridge that links West Ashley and downtown Charleston, (unless you are supremely brave and determined, like CCL’s Katie Zimmerman). The city is trying to change that by dedicating one lane on the Ashley River Bridge to bikes and pedestrians. The Medical University’s Sandra Fowler and Terry Day lay out many of the reasons this is a good idea. The upcoming one month demonstration project will confirm whether, as predicted, the lane dedication costs drivers only 7 seconds in additional travel time, or whether that number is closer to, say, 20 seconds.

Lowcountry trees may be safe under the stewardship of the Forest Service, but, sadly, the exact opposite is the case with the S.C. Department of Transportation. This article from the Island Packet reveals that the DOT is preparing for Treemageddon Two on 35 miles of I-95 in Jasper County. According to the article, this section of road is known to some people as the “coffin corridor” because there have been, on average, 3 deaths annually over the past five years. (“Honey, would you like to take the coffin corridor down to Savannah?” “Sure, if we can stop at McDonald’s along the way.”)

This is the section of highway that the Legislature banned, four years ago, a speed enforcement camera operated by the town of Ridgeland, in spite of evidence that it had reduced speeding and saved lives.

So what can one make of all of this? It is unacceptable to use a camera to enforce speed limits, in spite of evidence that its deployment saved lives, but it is fine to spend $8 million dollars cutting trees down in the median, with no evidence that their removal will change anything except the scenery, or that there aren’t better options. This is the same DOT that is asking for an additional $1.4 billion annually, with nothing more than a promise that the money will be spent, for a change, on bona fide needs.

I hope you have enjoyed the beautiful weekend and now the welcomed rain.


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