by Rebecca Collett
WCBC News 2
Legislation working its way through the State House would eliminate protection for hundreds of square miles of land in Dorchester County.
The Coastal Conservation League says the legislation has huge impacts on the natural environment and will impact critical wetlands. County leaders say the unnecessary protection stifles growth.
In January, Dorchester County Council voted unanimously to request state lawmakers to initiate legislation that would exempt a portion of Dorchester County from “Critical Area Permitting Regulations” enacted in the 70’s.
“This threatens our natural, historical and cultural resources,” Myles Maland, Coastal Conservation League, told News 2. He says the exemptions for Dorchester County would stream down to other protected lands in Charleston County as well.
Federal funding could also be jeopardized, but some county leaders and lawmakers claim the designation stifles growth in the county.
“If you take a look at other coastal counties, they’re getting huge projects,” Maland disagreed. “Daimler was just announced last week,” he continued. He also pointed out the growth of Boeing and Google in Charleston and Berkeley Counties which are currently under the same land protections.
County councilman, Jay Byars told News 2 the counties aren’t comparable.
“We don’t have the Cooper River where we can locate large industries,” he explained. He continued explaining Charleston and Berkeley Counties have other elements that make them more competitive like access to the ocean and port and long stretches of I26 in critical areas.
“This helps us address those competitiveness issues,” he explained.
Byars said 65 percent of county residents work elsewhere because they don’t have access to jobs.
“We have economic development projects we want to land,” he explained. But he said the cost to mitigate wetlands, which aren’t necessarily wetland, becomes cost prohibitive and businesses decide to local somewhere else.
According to the Conservation League, the legislation would change the designation for some 520 square miles of land in the upper two-thirds of the county.
“I’m an outdoor enthusiast,” Byars said. “Conservation is very important to me.” He’s the chairman of the Dorchester County Parks & Recreation Commission.
The Coastal Conservation League doesn’t buy that.
“All this really serves to do is destroy the natural resources of the county as well Charleston and other counties,’ Maland said.
Legislators are expected to continue discussing the bills next week.