Friday, July 20, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

My comments last week in this space have hit a nerve around Bluffton. We received a huge number of calls and emails, largely on the river issue. We have been traveling, so at this point, I don’t have an exact number, but it is in excess of 200 contacts, almost all expressing some degree of outrage. While I stick by my original inclination to let this be a local “neighbor helping neighbor” enforcement model, we are nonetheless investigating what might need to happen if this untenable situation does not self-correct.

While my inquiry is still in the preliminary stage, it appears as though control of the estuarine rivers is a responsibility shared by federal, state and local authorities. There are interlocking relationships that define who does what. For example, the SC Department of Natural Resources has authority to declare “No Wake” zones, but they can share enforcement authority with both municipal police and county sheriff’s departments. However, before the police or sheriff personnel can enforce the state designation, they must be certified by the SCDNR. That certification involves 40 hrs. of training supplied by SCDNR. Unfortunately, the certification classes have been in hiatus for several years. This has had the effect of largely restricting the number of officers available to the various levels of law enforcement who might be available to help with the current situation.

As we follow the matter on the local waters, I will continue to help define our options. Again, my hope is that we will solve this in the community. Failing that, we will do what is necessary to ameliorate the problem before simple bad form turns into the inevitable tragedy.

Another aspect of my job that deals directly with our waters is the recent veto of the funding for the Sea Grant Program by Governor Haley and her crew of advisors. When I first read the veto statement, I thought it might have been a typo or simply a transcription mistake. Unfortunately, it was just a mistake.

Within hours of the veto announcement, I received an email from my good friend, Dr. Chris Marsh, executive director of the Lowcountry Institute, located on Spring Island. Chris has been one of my most insightful advisors on water quality issues for many years. He pointed out that the veto removed $420,000 from the state budget, but cost the state around $6 million in grants already in the pipeline. If the veto stands, the $6 million will not return to the federal treasury, it will go to other states, helping them protect their natural resources instead of helping protect ours. Many of these grants are continuations of research that may have been going on for years. The potential less to our state in useful, actionable knowledge would compound the current grant losses exponentially. In looking back over just my time in the House, the Sea Grant Consortium has brought grants to the state that total more than $50 million, at a cost of around $5 million. In my view, that’s a pretty good cost/benefit ratio.

If things go as planned, by the time you read this, we will have overridden not only this unwise veto, but also the Arts Commission veto, and all the other unfortunate “political messaging” coming out of the governor’s office. In truth, many of us are somewhat in sympathy with the governor’s intentions, but the veto is not the proper venue for those conversations.