Monday, January 4, 2010

Commercial developers must do more than talk good games

Bluffton Today

I want to again apologize for the inconvenience many of you have experienced in making phone contact with us over the holidays. Although our friends at Hargray have been putting in some overtime hours, which we appreciate, the phones have not been flawless. Things are pretty much OK now so in the week left before session begins, please give it another try if you have things to discuss.

This is my eighth year in the General Assembly and looks to be by far the most challenging, simply because the dollars to keep the state functioning properly are not available. As a member of Ways and Means, much of the heavy lifting of cutbacks and retrenchment will fall to me. If there is any bright side to this downturn, it may be that my calls for reform of the tax system may find a few more sympathetic ears this session. For our many laid-off workers or those having to do with diminished or absent state support, that is pretty thin gruel.

Constant readers of this column know that the two foundational supports of my political efforts are JOBS and ENVIRONMENT.

Jobs in our state are mostly related in one way or another to a clean and green environment. Environmental disasters, conversely, are proven job-killers. What I strive for is an economy that creates jobs by leveraging the benefits of a great environment. It’s a simple formula for building and maintaining a community where quality of life is a driving feature of the economy. Smart people with good companies want to move here and be a part of what we currently enjoy.
I am challenged and somewhat puzzled by the huge project under development at the corner of highways 170 and 278. The Sembler project will undoubtedly create a number of jobs but the location of the shopping center near the headwaters of the fragile Okatie River is a cause of great concern.

There is also the matter of the state financial incentives requested by the Sembler Co.
There is conversation around the General Assembly questioning the rationale for those incentives, as well as some of the information used to justify them. I have had good conversations with both environmental folks and jobs folks. In fact, I have spent a great deal of time on this matter, including talks with Sembler personnel all the way up the food chain.
They talk a good game but here is the bottom line: Can they prove to me, to Beaufort County, to the Coastal Conservation League and to Nancy Schilling and Friends of the Rivers that post-development runoff from their project will be the same or less than pre-development runoff? The latest and most definitive study (TMDL) of the Okatie River requires at least that commitment.

I know the engineering exists to make this happen, because that’s what we did at the Promenade in Old Town Bluffton. In fact, our underground storage system treats and retains not only our stormwater, but also runoff from surrounding areas.
I’ll keep you posted on this as information becomes available.

Next week’s column will come out the day before the session begins. You can expect a full rundown of what your representative and your delegation are planning. Until then, I wish you a good and prosperous year, and look forward to serving you with the continued effectiveness and commitment you deserve.