Sunday, September 6, 2015 Blog

Swamp canaries, swamped roads, better entrances, baby fish and baby gorillas

by Andy Hollis


Last week’s turbulent weather, with more than six inches of rainfall in one day, followed by days of violent lightening storms, makes the story of Long Shot seem even more miraculous. Long Shot, as Bo Petersen reports in the Post and Courier, is not a space capsule, or even Charleston’s acclaimed long distance swimmer, Kathleen Wilson, (who is swimming 24 miles from Trinidad to Tobago, as I write this post).

Long Shot is a 1/2 ounce prothonotary warbler, aka “swamp canary,” who was tagged in 2014 at the Audubon Society’s Four Hole Swamp Sanctuary and tracked, over the course of a year, winging her way to Florida, Cuba, Central America and the Pacific coast of Colombia, and returning to exactly the same 10 square yard breeding spot this spring. All together, it was a 4,000 mile trip, through wind, rain, and searing sun, and over hundreds of miles of open ocean.

If there were still any doubts about the importance of places like Four Hole Swamp, and about our ecological and moral obligation to protect them, Long Shot should put those to rest.

Long Shot did not report any traffic congestion on the way down or back. Not so for commuters on Highway 17 South this week. The combination of extremely high tides, (which NOAA advises are increasing in frequency), and heavy rain produced flooding and massive backups around the intersection of US 17 and Main Road to Johns Island. Some people interpreted the flooding as a reason to spend more than $600 million extending I-526 to John’s Island. But as the Post and Courier editorializes, it makes far more sense to fix the existing road network, by improving drainage and constructing a flyover at the intersection of 17 and Main. We could do this for a fraction of the cost, in a fraction of the time, which would be especially important, since there is a funding shortfall of more than $150 million for the I-526 project.

Although most of the news coverage of flooding focused on this section of highway, there were dozens of other places with similar problems, in North Charleston, Mt. Pleasant and downtown Charleston. Here is the reality 526 proponents, (including every candidate for mayor), choose to ignore. We have a limited amount of money for transportation. Every dollar (or every $100 million dollars) spent on I-526 reduces our ability to deal with other problems — on I-26, on Clements Ferry, on the Crosstown, or in Beaufort, Columbia or Greenville — by exactly that amount. Like life, transportation investment requires us to make choices. Under that real-world evaluation, the 526 extension is a remarkably foolish proposal.

Down South, Beaufort is making remarkably good decisions, moving ahead with the implementation of the Boundary Street redevelopment project. This initiative, (about 5% of the cost of the 526 extension), will transform the northern entrance to the town, spurring redevelopment and accommodating cars, bikes and pedestrians. It meets all of the basic requirements for a wise transportation investment: improved mobility, positive land use impacts, and affordability.

Two final items. The South Carolina Wildlife Federation’s Steve Gilbert and Ben Gregg write in the Post and Courier in favor of Special Management Zones to support fish spawning along the southeast coast, including South Carolina. As I noted last week, these are the equivalent of wildlife refuges on land, which, to paraphrase Ken Burns, are truly one of “America’s Best Ideas.”

And in a ceremony attended by Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, that country has named 24 baby gorillas. As USA Today reports, the naming ritual, which began in 2005, intends to raise awareness of the plight of these beautiful, gentle animals, and thus help them survive in an especially turbulent part of the world.

(Incidentally, the baby gorillas did not attend the ceremony, but they were duly appreciative in absentia.)


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