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Protecting their environment

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POSTED: January 15, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Longtime Lowcountry residents have watched in discontentment as their once-pristine home has been eroded by the onslaught of new development and a lack of strength in anemic laws meant to protect the natural environment.

New residents want what they came here for. Only then would they like to close the door behind them.

It’s an argument that’s heard as frequently as the requests to bend the rules governing the Lowcountry’s conservation. The latest? A request to build an 85-foot bridge across a saltwater marsh to a half-acre hummock off Fripp Island.

The General Assembly said enough is enough last year when it passed a law disallowing any bridges to coastal islands smaller than 2 acres. One exception: If the island is larger than 1 acre and within

100 feet of the mainland, a bridge can be erected.

Why, then, is the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, which permits bridges in coastal areas, even entertaining this application?

Last week, officials met with about 40 residents at St. Helena Elementary School to hear their input, as is part of the procedure when reviewing such a request. The applicant’s attorney, Mary Shahid of Charleston-based McNair Law Firm, argued that Jerry Risher’s hummock is not a coastal island because it is part of Fripp Island, which is exempt from the law. It might be important to note, too, that the island did have a permit for a bridge, but it expired in 2001, four years after Risher bought the island and five years before the new regulations were passed.

Even if the hummock was not deemed an island, the bridge would cross a state-owned marsh, which isn’t allowed unless the property owner has a title granted by the state or the king of England.

That’s too bad for the property owner but good for people who don’t want to see sensitive ecosystems exploited by those who could afford to plunk down the dollars to buy the islands and hire attorneys to try to bend the laws.

Bridges dump stormwater runoff into the marsh, introducing oil, gasoline, antifreeze, pesticides and other chemicals into the environment. Bridges also create shade that could kill marsh grasses and alter the ecosystem, and they obstruct the natural views that are a public resource. If the rules are bent and one bridge is allowed, what’s stopping other unbridged marsh islands in the Lowcountry from being permitted for bridges?

There is plenty of coastal land on which to build without further damaging the environment for the view or waterfront access. The state’s laws have come a long way from being anemic, and bills are being introduced each legislative session to stave off further environmental damage to our sensitive natural surroundings.

Now, the governing bodies must uphold them.

The Beaufort (S.C.) Gazette

 

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