Monday, July 27, 2009

'Green and Clean equals quality of life and jobs'

Bluffton Today

A couple of weeks ago, we learned that the Inn at Palmetto Bluff has been named the number one resort in the USA and Canada by Travel and Leisure Magazine. The Inn was also rated number fourteen in the world by the magazine’s readers’ survey.

There was a segment on the “Today” show featuring visitors boating, kayaking, biking and playing golf. It was well-earned recognition for the excellent planning of the overall Palmetto Bluff community, and especially the many, many folks who staff the Village and the Inn and work hard every day to show visitors the best of service in an incomparable setting.

The very things that draw people from around the country and across the globe to the Inn at Palmetto Bluff are the very things that we experience as the Bluffton quality of life. Those things are, of course, the green Lowcountry landscape and the clean water of the May River. Without “green and clean” there would likely be no Palmetto Bluff community and certainly no world-class hotel. Bluffton would be a different and less prosperous and interesting place without our natural amenities. There would also be many fewer good jobs, fewer successful businesses, and fewer visitors.

Friends, when I heard the good news about the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, it reminded me of one of my core political beliefs: Green and Clean Equals Quality of Life and Jobs. It is simple, direct and true.

Speaking of businesses and jobs, Old Town Bluffton appears to be leading the area out of the recession. Despite having one of our main roads completely torn up for months, Old Town is growing jobs as forward thinking business people are opening new restaurants, shops, galleries, and service outlets.

The Carson Cottages on Calhoun Street are completely committed with more building on the way. Magnolia Village across the street from Palmetto State Bank has completed a doubling of their space with many of the new units already spoken for. In my neighborhood, the Calhoun Street Promenade has just opened Captain Woody’s, a long awaited addition to the fine complement of eateries in the Old Town. They will soon be joined by Ted Huffman’s Barbeque Shack-- complete with a handmade smoker from Hilton Head metal artist Kevin Lawless. There is also the Promenade Hair Design shop to make you look good, as well as Patricia’s Alterations to make your clothes look better. Your house will also benefit from a visit to Designer Accents, a creative take on recycling cool stuff.

Needless to say, Old Town Bluffton is generating a lot of what the economic development people call “body heat”. In fact, from walking around town and chatting with merchants, it seems that business across the board is looking up. With the stock market showing a little life, people seem increasingly optimistic. There are even a few new houses being built.

Across the state, the economic forecasters I have spoken with are not quite so optimistic. The beginnings of recovery may have begun here, but let’s not lose sight of the above-mentioned political equation.

Next week, Conservation Voters of South Carolina (CVSC) is having a green tie luncheon to honor legislators who “get it”. If you or your company wants to participate, give us a call at the office for details. You might recognize one of the honorees.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Port progress will soon involve all

Bluffton Today

Last week, I shared that I was a member of the Savannah River Maritime Commission, and as such, would have certain responsibilities relative to the Jasper Port. There were a number of you, judging by your calls, who were confused as to whether the commission was a South Carolina entity or something we cooked up with Georgia.

Here is the deal:
The Savannah River Maritime Commission was established by a joint resolution of the South Carolina General Assembly in April 2007. It was charged with the responsibility of representing the interests of South Carolina in matters relating to the Savannah River, our border with Georgia.

These include, but are not limited to, navigability, dredging, wastewater, and sludge disposal.

Membership is composed of three members from the senate, three members from the house, the governor, the chairs of DHEC, DNR, and the SC Ports Authority, the last three being ex officio. In addition, the Attorney General has a local representative from Jasper County. Currently, the chairman is the capable Dean Moss, head of the Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority.

Originally, we were to meet twice a year, but the reality is that we may meet as often as quarterly, or even every other month. There are simply a raft of outstanding issues.

Our last meeting was at the new Jasper County Government Building and ably hosted by Dr. George Hood, chairman of Jasper County Council. It is plain that Jasper County and Beaufort County are both primary stakeholder in this process. We will share the benefits of the port, just as we will endure any potential negatives flowing from this project. We also share a commitment to anticipate and eliminate those potential negatives.

At the last meeting, we received a briefing on the permitting and feasibility studies required of the Jasper Ocean Terminal. Additionally, we took up the matter of the role our commission should have in reviewing the draft of the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Savannah Harbor Deepening Project.

Obviously, this review is one of the most critical features of our mandate. There are a number of profoundly serious issues under consideration relative to this deepening project. Among these issues are potential damage to the Upper Florida Aquifer, saltwater intrusion into upstream natural features, as well as the possibility that our drinking water access points along the Savannah River might be compromised.

Making this matter somewhat delicate is the fact that if the deepening project is rejected or significantly modified, the commercial prospects for the Jasper Ocean Terminal are magnified immensely. In my view, the science needs to guide this process, not short-term political or economic advantage.

These issues are all of such importance that it would be unthinkable for us to go forward without hearing from you on this. At some point, the draft of the EIS will be made available to the public, we will then conduct a hearing, and there will be at least 45-60 days of comment period.

I promise that this will not be one of those obscure, pro forma events that seem to get overlooked be everyone except those with an economic interest. You will hear from me (and ideally all media) exactly when, where, why, and what it all means. Your questions and your wisdom will be a part of the outcome of this review. We cannot afford to get this one wrong.

Next week, there is good news for Bluffton and new business for Old Town.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kudos to leaders in our arts community and port creation

Bluffton Today

Before we get on to the promised port news, I’d like to say a few things about my favorite topic, that is, of course, job creation and economic development in Beaufort County and particularly in Bluffton. This time we’ll add an artistic twist to my regular commentary.

The art community in the Lowcountry is especially well represented in Old Town Bluffton. As a consequence, much of the business activity in our neighborhood is either directly or indirectly related to the arts. The Sippin Cow and May River Grill are packed daily with visitors here to see art, antiques, and our gorgeous natural landscape.

The schools in our area have done their part in not only fostering an appreciation for the arts in our local graduates, but also serve as an incubator for new artists. Randalyn Clabaugh and Tim Holsinger, the chairs of the art departments of Hilton Head and Bluffton High, respectively, continue to do a great job of launching the creative careers of talented young folks.

Many years before there was, however, a new Bluffton High, with its great facilities, there was art teacher Betty Hopson and her less than well equipped classroom in what is now Calhoun Station, in the municipal building that was formerly part of McCracken High School. Long since retired, Ms. Hopson’s tireless efforts prepared the ground for much of what has transpired in the Old Town.

Now, one of Betty Hopson’s star students, her daughter Rebecca (Hopson) Perrenoud, is returning to Bluffton and opening Rebecca Perrenoud Design in the Calhoun Street Promenade. The new business will specialize in faux finishes as well as murals and custom paint effects. With this excellent new addition to the Bluffton art community, the primary driver of our local economy just picked up a little more steam.

Now for the promised port business. The best news lately is the hiring of Jim Newsome as the new CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority. Jim replaces Bernie Groseclose in the job and will begin work officially on the first of September.

My friend and Bluffton neighbor Doug Robertson was a key member of the Ports Authority Board that provided the leadership and the business savvy in, first of all, coming up with over a hundred qualified applicants for this job. Doug also was involved in the lengthy interview process that culminated in what is being hailed as an excellent hire.

For those of us who know Doug, the fact that he assumed leadership of this crucial task as one of his first assignments upon accepting the board appointment is no surprise. His career with several Fortune 500 companies provides numerous examples of Doug Robertson stepping up when critical needs demanded his very polished skill set. We are fortunate to have him representing Bluffton and South Carolina in a position where job creation in the transportation sector is a primary metric of success.

I am a member of the Savannah River Maritime Commission, and as such, will be working closely with Doug and the rest of the South Carolina Ports Authority on the new Jasper Port. There are a number of potentially thorny issues to be hashed out regarding the configuration of the new port relative to the existing Savannah port, especially as it involves the proposed deepening of the channel to accommodate the larger ships that will want to call after the widening of the Panama Canal.

Next week, I will try to explain some of this controversy, as well as give you a little more on what the Maritime Commission does and who is involved.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Governor sadly reaping the whirlwind

Bluffton Today

I hope you all had a suitably festive and patriotic Independence Day. In that spirit, I want to thank you for the calls and emails this last week. The system set in motion on the 4th of July, 1776, works when you contact your representative and let me know what is on your mind and how you think the government should function.

I thank you, and the founding fathers thank you as well. You continue to make their vision of representative democracy the light of the world.

We set a record for constituent contacts last week, breaking the previous mark by a wide margin. Most of the conversation had to do with the Sanford melodrama. I also had a chance to speak with many of you at the Farmer’s Market last Thursday, and the governor was the main topic.

You and I, as usual, are pretty much in synch on this sad situation. Regardless of our political inclinations, we all seem to think the governor continues to violate the Primary Rule of Holes, that is: when you are in a hole, you need to stop digging.

I spoke with Governor Sanford last week. Honestly, I’m concerned that the relentless international condemnation and ridicule has begun to affect his perspective and equilibrium. I don’t say that to be unkind at all. I have enormous respect and admiration for the governor and particularly for the office he holds. I hope he can get some time to sort out his circumstances.

Right now, to use the biblical terms he has come to favor—Mark Sanford is reaping the whirlwind.

For those of us whose answer to this annoying distraction is to go fishing, there is a new wrinkle to the pastime. You now need a license to fish in salt water, regardless of whether it is from a boat or from a dock or even from the bank. As you know, I’m not a big fan of new taxes. However, this new license is as close to a user fee as we can get. Also, the fee schedule of $10 for in-state and $35 for out-of-state is pretty nominal, with the proceeds going to keep the fishery in good shape with better management and enhanced enforcement of conservation laws.

One of the beneficiaries of this new funding is the Waddell Mariculture Center out on Sawmill Creek Road here in Greater Bluffton. Al Stokes and his crew have absorbed more than their share of budget cuts recently while still managing to carry on with their mission. They have sought and found a creative mix of private monies and grants from individuals and groups that understand the absolutely essential role that the Waddell Mariculture Center plays in keeping our game fish populations healthy. You will hear much more in the very near future about this great facility and how they do a tremendous job of keeping the Lowcountry an ecological treasure, as well as fantastic place to fish.

Next week, barring more melodrama, I want to talk about the new port and how it’s progressing.