Sunday, June 10, 2007
Edisto: Deal of the Century
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.
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
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.
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
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
Columnist David Lauderdale, Hilton Head Island Packet,
"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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Please keep your comment to 250 words or less:
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
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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