S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, June 10, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0610.eastedisto.htm

East Edisto: Deal of the Century
By Andy Brack, Publisher

JUNE 10, 2007 - - East Edisto, 70,000 acres of timberland in rural Charleston and Dorchester counties, is South Carolina's deal of the century.

MeadWestvaco, which owns this highly productive timber forest, plans to develop parts of the tract on the east side of the Edisto River. But some Lowcountry leaders are chatting up a different possibility - - outright purchase of the tract to preserve it, not develop it.

Buying the whole tract, which experts say is worth $280 million to $350 million, would be the smartest thing the state could do to preserve South Carolina's land traditions for future generations. A tract of this size and importance likely won't come up for sale in the near or distant future.

East Edisto tract (in green). Learn more.

Charleston banker Hugh Lane Jr. suggested in a recent column in The Post and Courier that Lowcountry residents should raise the money to preserve the land to allow the region to keep its quality of life.

"Think of what the long-term benefits would be to have the land protected," Lane said in an interview. "Charleston would become the only metropolitan area in the country that would have anything like this…It would be a heck of a greenbelt around the southern end of Charleston and Dorchester counties."

Others have suggested that the state buy it to preserve the area, which is contiguous to the tens of thousands of acres of land in the pristine ACE Basin. Buying the land for around $300 million sounds steep. But consider:

  • The state could find the money. Just a couple of months ago, lawmakers learned from the state Board of Economic Advisers that the state would take in $240 million more than expected in the next two years. If the state found it important to protect the land, it could find the money to do it over the next few years.

    "Westvaco says all the right things about how it will develop what it calls 'East Edisto.' But something bold needs to be done. Lane's suggestion must be seen as reasonable. Lane is no wigged out, tree-hugger. He's a fourth-generation banker, and that doesn't tell the full story. Lanes, like his grandfather, Mills B. Lane, and father, Hugh C. Lane Sr., are synonymous with banking in South Carolina and Georgia."

    -- Columnist David Lauderdale, Hilton Head Island Packet, 6/1/07. Read more...

    It will cost more to develop. East Edisto has no basic infrastructure - - water, sewer and roads. After basic development, the area would need secondary infrastructure - - schools, fire service, police protection, garbage collection and other municipal services. This stuff costs real big money - - easily billions of dollars. Who do you think will pay for it? Answer: Taxpayers. In other words, to pay to develop the property, local taxes likely would go up significantly in the short term to build the roads and schools and other infrastructure.

    "It would end up costing taxpayers," noted former Congressman Tommy Hartnett, a Charleston real estate appraiser. He added that short-term costs might be made up eventually in the larger tax base from people in the developed area, but that would take awhile.

  • More traffic. If East Edisto became home to, say, 30,000 or more new homes, imagine the increased traffic, pollution and environmental impact on the area. If there's one thing people in Charleston say about future development, it's that they don't want more traffic. Large-scale development of the East Edisto tract would help transform today's long traffic jams into Atlanta-like sprawling congestion.


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In light of the downsides of a large development scattered in 70,000 acres of land, the obvious answer is for the state to create a new East Edisto State Forest. Such an investment has several advantages:

  • Cut off a piece to develop. The state could recoup the $300 million cost of the tract by developing a slice of 5,000 acres or so near existing development or established infrastructure.

  • Manage the timber. The state also could outsource management of some of the productive timberland to generate revenue to pay for costs of upkeep.

  • State park. It could put the most prized part of the property into a new state park to show stewardship for future generations. If, for example, the state put 20,000 acres into a new state park, the amount of state-protected park land or preserved acreage would jump from about 80,000 acres to 100,000 acres - - a 25 percent boost.

As more and more people move to South Carolina to enjoy its special places and smiling faces, there will be more and more development. In turn, it will become harder and harder to protect the land we've got. Today, we've got a chance to protect a large part of our land heritage. It wouldn't be smart to ignore this opportunity.

You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of SC Statehouse Report, at brack@statehousereport.com.

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