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New panel to address the Catch-22 of growth
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report

NOV. 24, 2002 - - South Carolina continues to attract thousands of new residents, particularly along the coast. They move here, among other things, to enjoy the quality of life in the Palmetto State.

But as more people move in, there's more development - - buildings and schools, roads and bridges. In turn, there are escalating stresses on the state's environment and quality of life.

It's the Catch-22 of coastal growth.

Fueled by tourism, retirees and service industries, growth along the coast is an increasingly important economic engine for the whole state. From 1980 to 2000, population along the coast increased 43 percent, compared to 24 percent elsewhere in the state, according to a September study by Clemson for DHEC.

Not only are more people moving here, but they're doing a larger share of business in services, trade, finance, insurance and real estate on the coast, the Clemson study showed.

"The coast has grown because the environment is attractive," said Chris Brooks, deputy director of the Department of Health and Environmental Control coastal resources office.

Over the next 18 months, DHEC's new citizen-based Council on Coastal Futures will try to figure out practical ways to accommodate growth, environmental protection and the coast's quality of life.

What makes growth management tricky is too much management will hurt an increasingly important part of the state's business economy. Too little management may cause such a degradation of the coast's quality of life that people wouldn't want to leave New Jersey for a Southern version.

"We can't have this huge population explosion next to sensitive waters and expect those waters not to change," said Chris Brooks, deputy DHEC director for coastal resources. "If the state is going to progress and do it properly, growth is going to have to be managed properly."

The new council's panelists range from developers to environmentalists. At first glance, they may appear to be of such diverse constituencies that one would think they would not be able to develop a forward-thinking consensus.

But that's what many said 15 years ago before a similar citizens' panel of developers and environmentalists pushed through the nation's toughest beachfront management laws.

The new panel, led by Beaufort County lawyer Wes Jones, is packed with people like John Settle III who bring a lot of viewpoints to the table.

One might not automatically put Settle, one of Charleston's leading real estate brokers who makes a living by selling new and old homes, in the "environmentalist" column. But he's got a keen appreciation of the outdoors. Not only does he hunt and fish, but his wife Jane is a former water quality expert for DHEC.

"I have lived and breathed the protection of our estuarine environment," Settle said. "I want it to stay as close to pristine as possible.

"But we can't put up a sign and say you can't come to Charleston or Myrtle Beach. You have to put restrictions on it and monitor it to ensure we're doing the best we can for the resource."

Panelist Jimmy Chandler, a Georgetown environmental lawyer, is hopeful - - if council members can get beyond rhetoric and get into meaty issues.

"We will have to quit talking past each other and start talking to each other," he said.

Brooks expects the council to do just that.

"I think we can reach consensus for some improvement," he said. "All we have to do is realize everyone is in this together."

If panelists realize people may quit coming to South Carolina if it spoils its coastal resources, "any businessman today is going to see the economic sense of doing this right," Brooks added.

The new panel will meet for an organizational session in December and get to work in January. A report is due by May 2004.

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