Owners sell S.C. island to state, abandon bridge plan Residents had opposed development as a resort

March 24, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The owners of part of a coastal island in South Carolina have sold the land to the state, abandoning a plan to build a bridge that might have resulted in the island's development as a resort.

Sandy Island, one of two islands in the state without a direct connection to the mainland, has become the centerpiece of an ambitious wetlands preservation plan.

The state will maintain as undeveloped land the island and neighboring acreage in the delta of the Waccamaw and the Great Pee Dee Rivers that was acquired from others. It will use the total 17,000 acres as a "mitigation bank" to offset the loss of other wetlands from long-stalled road construction projects in the area, about 25 miles south of Myrtle Beach.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, the state can approve developments that harm existing wetlands only if it conserves other wetlands to mitigate that loss.

Eventually the area, which was purchased by the state for $12.9 million, will be turned over to the Nature Conservancy, the nation's largest private manager of conservation sites.

There were many winners in the arrangement, said David Farren, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center. They included environmentalists such as his group and its client, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, which opposed the bridge; as well as the state, which can proceed with its road projects at a lower than expected cost because they do not have to worry about wetlands protection.

Also among the victors are the 135 black residents who live in the southern part of the island, many of whom are direct descendants of the slaves who worked on the region's rice plantations.

The Rev. George Weathers, the unofficial mayor of the island, said that the residents, who travel back and forth to the mainland by boat, had feared that the bridge would bring luxury resort development to the largely wooded northern tip of the island and eventually price them out of the area.

Sandy Island Associates had sought since 1989 to build the two-lane, 750-foot-long bridge at a cost of $2 million and had insisted that it would be used solely to facilitate the harvesting of timber on about 9,000 acres the partnership owned. Opponents, noting the value of the timber was less than the cost of the bridge, were suspicious and at one point uncovered a plan drafted by a consultant to the owners for luxury condominiums, golf courses and other development for 20,000 people.

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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