Berkeley County Conservation Fund
In August of 2022, Berkeley County Council unanimously passed third and final reading of an ordinance to reauthorize the penny sales tax that has been in place since 2008 to help fund roadway and infrastructure projects throughout the county. This time around, 10% of the funding generated will be dedicated to greenbelt preservation projects, including purchasing property for conservation, creating new publicly accessible greenspace, and protecting natural resources, agricultural lands, and scenic corridors. This is a huge win for Berkeley County, but it’s not official yet! The referendum will be on the ballot November 8, 2022 for voter approval.
This couldn’t come at a more critical time, as Berkeley County is currently the fastest growing county in the tri-county area, and one of the fastest growing counties in the entire country. This growth can be beneficial for everyone, but only if it is well-planned and strikes a delicate balance between accommodating new growth, protecting invaluable natural resources, and sustaining a high quality of life for all residents.
The penny sales tax will help strike that balance. Most of the revenue (90%) generated by the sales tax will still be used to complete critical road projects ranging from paving dirt roads in rural areas, to adding turn lanes and making intersection improvements to address safety concerns at high priority locations, to increasing capacity and reducing congestion on major thoroughfares. The remaining 10% will be utilized for greenbelt preservation projects to promote conservation and recreation efforts across the county.
Historic Pineville Chapel, built ca. 1810
Other Local Conservation Funds in South Carolina
There are multiple examples of similar local conservation funds in South Carolina, including programs in Oconee, Beaufort, Charleston, and Dorchester counties. Since 2000, Beaufort has protected over 25,000 total acres through its Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program. Since 2007, Charleston has protected over 24,000 total acres through its Greenbelt Program, half of which are open for the public to enjoy.
Having a local conservation fund is often important for accessing state and federal funds. For example, the South Carolina Conservation Bank highly values matching funds when considering applications. Check out this commentary by Raleigh West, Executive Director of the S.C. Conservation Bank, on the importance of local conservation funds.
Opportunity Areas for Greenbelt Projects
Establishing a local conservation fund in Berkeley County would provide many new opportunities to protect open space, establish county parks, and help manage growth.
One priority area is Wassamassaw Swamp—also known as Great Cypress Swamp further downstream—the primary headwater of the Ashley River. The swamp runs from north to south on the western side of the county from near Lake Moultrie, all the way to the Dorchester County line. Many of the other headwaters that run through Berkeley County have benefitted from decades of conservation efforts to help protect water quality and wildlife habitat, maintain stormwater capacity, and provide more public access to the water, including Four Holes Swamp (a headwater of the Edisto River) and Wadboo Creek (a headwater of the Cooper River). Unfortunately, the vast majority of Wassamassaw Swamp is currently unprotected, under extreme growth pressure, and at risk of severe degradation ranging from fill for industrial warehouses to increased pollution via stormwater runoff from encroaching residential developments.
Wassamassaw Swamp, a headwater of the Ashley River
Another important area where this fund could be utilized is the Cooper River Corridor. This essentially encompasses everything between the Cooper River and the Francis Marion National Forest from Moncks Corner to the Huger/Wando communities. The Corridor has benefitted from decades of dedicated conservation efforts. Protected properties in the region include Cypress Gardens, Mulberry, Mepkin Abbey, and Halidon Hill. However, the Cooper River Corridor is now facing unprecedented growth pressures coming from both ends of the region. This new conservation fund could help protect the most at-risk properties in the corridor and ensure this historic landscape and world-class wildlife habitat is not fragmented by incompatible development.
Creek off the Wando River near Cainhoy