Saturday, January 31, 2009

What is going on with our local government?

There have been numerous articles recently about the quality of water in the May River and other pristine waterways that are a part of the lowcountry estuary system. (I have posted a few below) They all lead back to one problem. Our county and town governments have dropped the ball on inspecting the way retention ponds are built, where they flow too, and how do they filtrate the pollutants that they hold. Beaufort County has rules and regulations and standards for developers, but they seem to be more interested in natural buffers along the major thoroughfares (I call them trash collectors). A nicely landscaped buffer is much neater, more aesthetic to the eye, and provides better visibility for the commercial operators. It shouldn't be such a big deal, what is a big deal is not taking the time, the money, the knowledgeable inspector to check on the retention ponds, and drainage of a development. Take it one more step and make developments get bi annual water testing of their outflows. Work with marine biologist to plant naturally plants and crustaceans that filter the water, and maintain the appropriate ecosystem in the master drainage system.

We have no one to blame but ourselves for not making sure our elected officials oversee what is taking place with inspections. Write your Town Council, and Beaufort County Council voiceing your anger for their oversight, and get them concentrating on the important things not the cutting down of weeds and dog willows along 278.

Property of Charlie B Fraser 2009


May Day for the May River: How we can save the county's pristine waters Collins Doughtie
Published Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I have always found it amusing how Blufftonians have defended our oysters. They aren't the biggest oysters in the country, but they sure are the sweetest, and they contain just the right amount of salt. In fact, they're the subject of many a discussion about whether they're the best in the country, which, believe it or not, has been known to stop just a tad shy of fisticuffs.

A perfect "for instance" happened not too long ago when I attended an oyster roast where I met two guests from Apalachicola, Fla. If you are not an oyster aficionado, Apalachicola is known for shipping oysters all over the country -- including to right here in Bluffton -- during the months when the water has not yet cooled and our oyster season is closed. They are big oysters alright, but to me they taste like a giant wad of cotton soaked in Lord-knows-what. For years I have tried to like them but, folks, it just ain't going to happen.

Thus I forgo eating oysters until that magic day around here when the water temperature drops and it's time to pull my boat over to a shell bank, grab my oyster knife and wallow in ecstasy as I sample the first May River oysters of the year. To make this event even better, I carry along saltine crackers and cocktail sauce, so I can shuck several oysters at a time, pile them high a cracker, drip a tad of cocktail sauce on and add another cracker to make an oyster sandwich. I swear this will make you swallow your tongue.

Since the time of the Indians, May River oysters have been a mainstay. I look at the shell middens -- which if you don't know are where the Indians would sit and shuck oysters and other shellfish. Some of these middens are 30 feet high and hundreds of feet long. Being a dreamer as well as a lover of history, I imagine how many generations of Indians -- and how many hundreds of years -- it took to pile up that many oyster shells. It just blows my mind. Since its beginning, the pristine May River has done its part to feed millions upon millions with all that it has to offer.

Not that long ago, I remember how proud we all were when we found that the May River was among only a select few bodies of water on the entire East Coast that could boast an A+ rating. We fought industry and won. We reveled whenever a story in some national publication used the May River as an example of the right way to develop in harmony with nature.

But this past week, the May River was the subject of a new piece of literature that has me terribly saddened. If I were to have named this report, I would called it "May Day For The May River."

What I have feared most has happened: A study done by the Town of Bluffton and DHEC reports that the May River is in big trouble. To illustrate just how much trouble, discussions are in the works about completely shutting down shell fishing from about one mile upstream from the Oyster Factory all the way to the May River's headwaters. Why? Pollution. To say I was stunned is an understatement. I was absolutely floored and frankly, mad as hell.

Where is this pollution coming from? It is coming from many sources, but primarily the many developments that have sprung up almost overnight in the past several years. And if you ask me, a lack of foresight and understanding of how the water run-off works in these areas is the reason our cherished May River oysters, clams and other filter feeders are threatened.

How come I saw it coming and those in power didn't? I am by no means smarter than these folks, but when building permits were being handed out like candy at a parade, I knew there would be consequences. Those consequences are now a terrible reality. To me, greed overpowered common sense.

So what can you do? Yell, scream and make your voices heard. Attend town meetings and write to those you have entrusted with our future. Unless we address this nightmare right here and now, you might just find yourself eating Apalachicola oysters from now on. How's that for a wake-up call?

Collins Doughtie is the outdoors columnist for The Bluffton Packet.

County yet to arrange promised Okatie River water quality testing
By MICHAEL WELLES SHAPIROmshapiro@islandpacket.com843-706-8142
Published Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Months after the Beaufort County Council approved in October a 1,252-home development near the Okatie River, the county hasn't moved forward with promised water quality testing.
The river water testing was part of an agreement developers of Okatie Village signed in exchange for the right to build the 284-acre project, which has a mix of commercial and residential developments.
The developers, Hilton Head Island's Jim Robinson and La Casa Real Estate Development of Winston-Salem, N.C., agreed not to do any further harm to the Okatie River, most of which is off-limits for shellfish harvesting because of pollution levels.
But the county, which was responsible for getting the initial tests done, hasn't yet hired a contractor.
County stormwater manager Dan Ahern said Beaufort County, which received money from developers for testing, wants to make sure its testing methods are consistent with those used by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
"We've gone over the scope of what needs to be done," said Ahern. But, he added, the question of who will do the work and what it will cost have not yet been determined.
The Okatie River is one of 970 impaired waterways in the state that the U.S. Clean Water Act requires DHEC to improve. Officials have said the agency is developing a program specific to shellfish harvesting waters that will define the maximum amount of a specific pollutant a body of water can take in and still meet state standards.
A study of the river, expected to be completed by year's end, will try to identify the pollution sources, which could be animals, failing septic tanks, stormwater drainage systems or all three. The study is a requirement for grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Ahern said county and state testing methods must be the same so officials have a better understanding of the sources of the pollution.
As a result, he said, the county's testing methods must be approved by state regulators.
Tom Jans, a spokesman for the Okatie Village developers, said his clients are surveying the land and performing engineering work before construction starts. The process should take six months.
"But the developers are committed as ever to provide the best protection possible for the Okatie," Jans said.

Dog wilows and weeds are not a natural buffer, the only small animals that live in them are rats feeding on the trash collected in the weeds. It also is not the character that I have grown up with. As far as neon signs, billboards, high rises, that the most ludicrus thing a reporter could even report. That is one thing Beaufort County got right. We don't have bill boards, neon signs and high rises, and we want. I mentioned how we could work with the runoff at the beginning of this blog, and it still is valid in this disccussion.

Property of Charlie B Fraser 2009

Developers, environmentalists clash over buffers
Published Sunday, January 25, 2009

Imagine the drive down U.S. 278 toward Hilton Head Island if many of the trees were replaced by high-rise buildings and hotels awash with flashy colors, bright neon signs and tall light fixtures.
It's not unusual for business groups to want their projects seen by the traveling public and tourists visiting Beaufort County.
The business groups, however, have long been at odds with environmentalists over the appropriate pace of development and the standards for building projects.
As the recession lingers, some business and government leaders have started to rethink the strict county rules on natural buffers and aesthetics involved in opening and renovating businesses.
The debate has been ongoing, mostly fought in a series of board meetings rarely attended by the public.
In November, however, the issue came to the forefront when county administrator Gary Kubic overrode the Southern Corridor Review Board, enabling a car dealership on U.S. 278 to rehabilitate its building without having to comply with the review board's requirements.
In the coming months, the county plans to revisit its renovation rules, particularly the requirements for planting trees. Though businesses sometimes view those rules as onerous, the officials charged with enforcing them say they are needed to protect the area's character and environment.
Kubic has voiced concerns about a jumbled county permitting process, which in lean times can make it difficult for new stores to get off the ground and for aging businesses to renovate.
Kubic said it is challenging to encourage small- and medium-sized businesses to spruce up older properties.
"They'll say, 'Hey, I can't afford it,'" Kubic said. "How do we get the developer to reinvest in himself, when he's saying, 'It's not worth it. I don't want another mortgage.'"
Kubic has suggested using the fines the county collects from builders who violate environmental standards to help small businesses pay for required buffers.
Steve Wilson, chairman of the review board, said the county should think hard before loosening requirements.
The board enforces zoning rules for tree- and shrub-filled buffers and design standards for lighting, muted colors and architecture that are consistent with the Lowcountry look.
Wilson is particularly adamant about buffer requirements, which he said aren't so cost prohibitive as to prevent developers from renovating.
"I'm a big capitalist," said Wilson, a commercial real estate consultant. "I think the market drives things and businesses aren't going to let their properties turn into blight."
The county's permitting process takes time, and some businesses have said they lose money waiting to set up shop as the wheels of bureaucracy turn.
Bill Miles, president of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, said the county must balance "the needs of business to be unencumbered by undue restriction" with the area's distinctive look.
Judy Nash Timmer, the county's development review planner, said much of the board's oversight deals with maintaining that local character.
When developers approach the board with car dealerships, Timmer said they often push for the franchise building to satisfy corporate headquarters.
But those plans often clash with local standards.
"They should look at what's allowed," Timmer said.
While businesses don't always like the process, Wilson said the county's regulations serve a valuable purpose.
"The wants and needs of the developer really are at odds of the wants and needs of people who want to control growth and protect the environment," Wilson said.
To that end, he said costs to the developer must take a back seat to buffers.
Kim Jones, natural resources manager for the town of Bluffton, said buffers serve as visual barriers to screen highways or neighboring properties, provide habitat for wildlife and help protect water quality.
"We are developing more of our land and taking more habitat off the plate for wildlife to utilize," she said.
Jones said encouraging the use of native vegetation and layers of tall trees and small shrubs in buffers will give birds habitat in the upper canopy while small mammals can inhabit the dense underbrush.
As far as water quality, the more plants to soak up nutrients and pollutants that run off roads and parking lots, the healthier local rivers will be, Jones said.
The board tries to balance development and the environment, Wilson said. If the area were any different, developers might not want to locate in Beaufort County.
"Why are people coming here?" he asked. "It's not for Best Buy or for Home Depot, but for the beauty of this place."


This is one of the articles that is alarming. Pulte did not build the runoff lagoons properly and they are a problem, how many others are their like this one? Not just in Sun City but all along 278, Buckwalter, and the New River. Beaufort and jasper Counties need to take a good hard and long look at this problem, and get with there programs and start fining people.

Property of Charlie B Fraser

Sun City developer promises to remedy lagoon problems
By MICHAEL WELLES SHAPIROmshapiro@islandpacket.com843-706-8142
Published Friday, January 23, 2009

Sun City Hilton Head developer Pulte Homes on Thursday promised to fix problems with a number of lagoons in the gated community at no cost to residents. That promise was made to about 550 residents at a meeting organized by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The agency alleged in June that Pulte had built a number of lagoons in several of the community's newer neighborhoods that didn't match their original permits, a violation of state pollution laws.
Lagoons are designed to filter rainwater before it flows into nearby rivers, streams and wetlands.
DHEC officials announced Thursday that Pulte has begun the repairs in the Aster Fields, Basket Walk, Murray Hill and Water Lily Cove neighborhoods.
"We stand ready to do this work, we've started to do this work ... and it's not going to cost you a nickel," Pulte spokesman Jon Cherry told the audience. After the meeting, Cherry said he didn't know how much the work would cost.
A "lagoon action plan" submitted to DHEC shows the repairs include dredging seven lagoons and raising the water level in others by changing the height of drains.
Though residents applauded Cherry's promise, many voiced concerns that Pulte's repairs would not be thorough enough and could saddle homeowners with hefty repair costs in the future.
Several pleaded with DHEC officials to make sure the repairs are adequate.
"Require Pulte to correct all the deficiencies and make sure it's done properly" said Rick McCollough, a Sun City resident who pushed DHEC to look into lagoon issues in 2007.
A presentation by Tim Doyle, a Sun City resident and civil engineer, said lagoon depths should be increased beyond what Pulte has proposed to ensure water quality.
During a lengthy public comment period, many residents described living next to murky, sediment-filled lagoons they felt were too shallow.
Stuart Freeman said he'd gone out in the pond behind his home in a canoe to measure its depths. It was 4 feet at its deepest point, he said.
While many residents came to the meeting to hear about the lagoons, a number also were upset that water is inundating several areas of federally protected wetlands in Sun City.
Rita Niemeyer described wetlands in her neighborhood where hardwood trees have collapsed because of excess water.
"In the past 1 1/2 to 2 years it has spread so fast it's frightening," Niemeyer said. She added the view of dead and dying trees behind many residents' homes adversely affects property values.
"How do you replace all these beautiful trees?" she asked. "It breaks my heart."
"We're still looking at the wetlands," said Blair Williams, a DHEC official. But he said the Army Corps of Engineers, which has oversight of wetlands, is leading that ongoing investigation.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Development and the coastal carolina ecosystem

We are making a difference and our federal government is leading the way. A recent article was in our local paper describing a new environmental study that will be done along the North and South Carolina coast and several other distinctive ecosystems in the USA. These studies will embrace the aspects of an ecosystem, not just a single aspect of the ecosystem, but how it all interacts which includes development. Contrary to popular belief we are part of the ecosystem.

Hopefully, this study will help our local and county government understand and possible get grants to help prove what can be done to develop in an ecofriendly manner. Currently our LMO's are too rigid in stature, and the bureaucrats that run the departments too scarred to allow a change from the standard operating procedure. This forces new creative thinking away from the table. A "good" developer with a good team of engineers, architects and builders are ahead of any planning commission when it comes to innovative design and land planning. Developers are going to create communities for what people want today, and they want ecofriendly communities. They will cost more than the standard traditional development, but in the long run they will go way beyond the cost.

The federal government will be leading the way on bringing ideas that are currently in places, but are not cost effective for consumers that will turn organic waste into fuel, soil additives, and replace bio carbons in the ground instead of the atmosphere, solar energy will power and heat homes and offices, waste water will be recycled into potable water and roof top hydroponics gardens will supply our vegetables. This will especially be critical in large urban areas, but it will also be done in smaller urban areas. Our current zoning is not flexible when it comes to urban living. There have been numerous attempts to rezone parcels that would incorporate the residential and commercial aspects of urban design, but the planning commission and council turned them down. Bluffton currently has a few developments that incorporate the residential and commercial villages, and this trend will only increase in the future. As, each new "village" is developed it will incorporate more ecofriendly components, into their overall planning.

We also need to have a standard rating system that will rate a community on it's overall practices for being labeled a "ecofriendly community". There are rating systems for buildings, and the Audubon Society has a rating system, but it is too narrow in focus. There also are some ratings for "Green Communities" but these go way beyond and incorporate a lifestyle.

It is not that far away. Some people like to call this a "Green" community, but I personally do not like the term. It is an ecofriendly community, because that is what is effected by the development; the ecosystems is the entire picture of the environment. EARTH, WIND, WATER & FIRE

Written by Charlie B Fraser 2009

Coastal Carolina chosen for national environmental study
By LIZ MITCHELLlmitchell@islandpacket.com843-706-8169
Published Saturday, January 10, 2009

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has chosen the coastal areas of North Carolina and South Carolina to be part of a national research project that will help communities make good environmental choices.
EPA officials are coming to Bluffton on Monday to present outline of the project and get comments from the public. The meeting will be followed by a daylong workshop in North Charleston of elected officials and leaders in planning, zoning and environmental protection.
"The idea is not to stop development or even slow it," said Dorsey Worthy of the EPA's Office of Research and Development. "We want increasing populations, but we want to do it in a knowledgeable and responsible way."
Worthy is leading the coastal Carolinas study, one of four community research projects in the country focused on understanding ecosystems that provide clean air and water, productive soils and food and fiber. The other studies are being conducted in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area, the Midwest and the Willamette River Basin in Oregon.
The Carolinas project will look at landscapes, waterways and coastal wetlands from counties near Currituck Sound in North Carolina to those near the Savannah River. The area was selected because it faces pressures from population growth and landscape and climate change, Worthy said.
"If we take too much advantage of the system without acknowledging its restorative and human health aspects, we run the danger of creating an environment that won't sustain us," Worthy said. "It's not just about wildlife; it's about protecting human health in the long run."
Worthy said the meeting also will help the EPA shape the agency's research agenda for the next 10 years. About 60 scientists are assigned to the study.
"We want to hear what (leaders and residents) value in their communities and where they want their communities to go in the next few years," Worthy said.
As research progresses, Worthy said, he and other EPA officials can help local communities access grants to protect and restore the environment.
Nancy Schilling, founder of Friends of the Rivers, which is hosting the meeting Monday, said she hopes Beaufort County can earn national recognition for its protection of waterways.
"My goal with Friends of the Rivers is that we never have to get into restoration," she said, but "that we are into preservation of what we've got ... ."