Committee studying wetland issues

  • Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Economic development is difficult enough in the global economy.

Add a set of rules no one else has to follow and the challenges become even greater.

The Dorchester County Ad Hoc Committee of the county’s Planning, Development and Building Committee will be spending this summer and beyond researching what it believes to be a major roadblock to economic development efforts in Dorchester County: an added set of guidelines for wetland mitigation only eight of South Carolina’s 46 counties are required to follow.

“We would prefer to have one set of rules so that we have the opportunity to participate on an even field with our sister counties,” Chairman Mike Murphree said. “Right now we don’t have that.”

At issue is the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Office of Coastal Resources Management’s guidelines for non-jurisdictional wetland mitigation. All counties are required to protect, preserve, and mitigate permanent wetlands such as swamps and marshes. However, only South Carolina’s eight coastal counties, including Dorchester County, are required to mitigate what are known as non-jurisdictional wetlands — that is, areas of land that do not hold water permanently, such as Carolina Bays or even small low lying areas that pond after heavy rains.

“Now we’re literally talking about a divot in your backyard,” Murphree said.

The result is that it takes more time to have a potential site prepared and approved, which often causes companies looking to build large facilities and thus make heavy capital investments in an area to simply rule out Dorchester County – and our sister coastal counties -- and go elsewhere.

“We lost a big one in 2006 because of this,” Murphree noted. “We’re at a critical point – we need to have more commercial, industrial, and retail to offset the costs of services that have and will continue to go up as the population grows.”

If Dorchester County cannot diversify, if it becomes a bedroom community, only two alternatives will be available – cut services or continually raise taxes, he said.

Commercial projects are not the only ones affected either; Dorchester School District 2 is behind schedule and over-budget on construction slated near the Pine Trace development due to the lengthy process for wetland mitigation, he noted.

The Ad Hoc committee will be spending the next few months putting together a thesis for presentation to the Planning, Development, and Building Committee. The thesis will trace the history of wetland mitigation, discuss the entire situation as it exists today, and make recommendations for the future. That committee, in turn, will decide whether to present the findings to Dorchester County Council.

“The purpose of this is not to destroy functioning wetlands,” he said. “The purpose of this is to have one set of rules everyone has to follow.”

The Ad Hoc committee plans to have a first draft of its thesis ready by the first of September and plans to give the completed presentation to the Planning, Development, and Building Committee in November.

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