Wednesday, October 31, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

The phones really lit up last week with so many of you wanting to know more about the Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program, and the work of the Open Land Trust. Many people wanted to know where the protected lands were located and which properties are accessible currently. There is an excellent web site,, set up by the Open Land Trust to help answer those questions. It’s a great site and the many gorgeous Lowcountry photos alone are worth taking a look.

Last Friday, I was at the candidates’ forum at Pinckney Hall in Sun City. Several folks had copies of emails they had received which stated the county was buying property under Rural and Critical with plans to develop the land on their own. Fortunately, the Chairman of County Council, my friend Weston Newton, and the conservation director for the Open Land Trust, Garrett Budds, were seated next to me on the dais.

After a short conference, we decided the emails were either simply misinformation, or more likely they were campaign related mischief intended to mislead the voters. The truth is the county has never had plans to develop any of the Rural and Critical properties and could not if they wanted, because it would violate both state and federal law, violate our agreements with both Department of the Navy and Department of Agriculture, as well as betray the trust of all who voted overwhelmingly to support the first two land preservation referendums. Those emails are clearly false and meant to deceive. Those responsible deserve your contempt, not your vote.

The point man for Rural and Critical is the aforementioned Garrett Budds. During his relatively short tenure, Garrett has compiled a very impressive record of strategic land acquisitions as well as gained the admiration and confidence of both participating landowners and County Council alike.

And speaking of rising stars, our state is once again being recognized in the business press as an excellent place to do business. The national magazine, Area Development, has ranked South Carolina as the second best place to do business in the nation. Citing the $3.4 billion worth of investments in new and expanding businesses announced in 2011, as well as business friendly tax policy and 11 other objective criteria, our state moved from #4 last year to the second spot behind Texas this year.

We are fortunate to have in place and operational, state programs such as ReadySC, which has trained or retrained more than 250,000 workers for more than 2,000 companies. We are cited as 3rd in the country for infrastructure and global access, as well as #5 in leading the economic recovery. When you combine these attributes with our resurgent tourism industry, whose foundations are our dedication to Clean and Green, our walking, bike and water trail systems, and our clean water and excellent fishing, we are on the verge of becoming an economic powerhouse.

Somehow there is this notion that economic development and good conservation practices are at odds with one another. Nothing could be further from the truth. Business people won’t ask their key employees to move to a wasteland, either culturally or environmentally. They want to do business as part of a clean, green community, with good schools and a culturally rich environment.
When I pledge to continue as a pro-business, job creating legislator, it by definition also means I am a big proponent of land conservation, water quality, cultural enrichment and all those things we have had such good success with in District 118 and Beaufort County. Garrett Budds and Rural and Critical are job creators and protectors no less than your legislator supporting business-friendly tax policy in Ways and Means. It’s all part of the big picture we call prosperity.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

With the election less than two weeks away, I want to encourage each of you to vote. There are so many things to be decided on the 6th of November, I’m hoping for a massive turnout to give those decisions the weight of support commensurate with their importance. While there are many things to be decided, none is more important, in my view, than the referendum to recharge Beaufort County’s land preservation effort. At issue is whether we want to allow Beaufort County to borrow around $25 million to continue one of the most successful conservation programs in the nation, the Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program. For those voting absentee, be sure to turn the ballot over because the referendum questions are on the back. Twice before, we have supported these referendums overwhelmingly, and I urge you to make it three times. My reasons are a combination of ethical, economic and personal.

As a developer, I know better than most that there are simply places that shouldn’t be developed. What kind of development would we allow on the Altamaha Indian village site near Callawassie Island? Would we knock down Fort Fremont for the sake of some waterfront condos? I think not. We developers are business people, not vandals. My entire career has been about creating value, not destroying or diminishing that which makes our community culturally and environmentally rich.

Much of the work of Rural and Critical has been around Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, and done in partnership with Dept. of the Navy. Not only does it secure the future of the largest source of jobs in the county, it is done with at least a 50% federal match. The same is true in partnering with the Dept. of Agriculture to purchase development rights on and around St. Helena so that farmers can remain farmers and not be forced to sell out by development pressure. The program has kept those jets in the air, jobs on the ground, and local food on the table. That’s a powerful case for building on more than ten years of Rural and Critical successes.

Rural and Critical has also been protecting the headwaters of the Okatie River for years and is now working around the headwaters of the May River. If we are ever going to get a handle on our water quality situation, the headwaters of our estuaries are where it begins. One of the reasons I, and our delegation, worked so hard to keep the state Conservation Bank intact was to have more potential partners for Rural and Critical. Half of Beaufort County is under water at high tide. If we let our pristine water quality slip away, we will, in effect, drive away our visitor base.

Finally, both our children are currently off at school. Mary and I would love more than anything to have them decide to make their lives in our community, to raise their children where we have raised ours. It may be wishful thinking, but we know they are moved, as are we, by the beauty of our place, the pristine waters, and the greens of the marsh and the maritime forests. Rural and Critical, along with the other land preservation programs, allows us the chance to keep what brought us here, what sustains us, and literally what feeds us. On November 6th, please do your part.

Next week, more water quality news from Capt. Dave Harter about the 5th Annual Taste of Waddell Celebration. It’s your chance to experience fresh local seafood prepared by one of the best chefs around.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

We got a good number of calls and emails on last week’s column, particularly with regard to the essential role that volunteers play in our community. Without the volunteers manning the various boards and commissions, the workings of government at all levels would grind to a halt. Without volunteers, the animal rescue shelters wouldn’t be able to do a tenth of the good work they do. The many service groups from Rotary and Lions to the United Way all depend on the generosity of community spirited folks to give of that which we value most, our time.

One of those public-spirited folks who has, over the years, volunteered much time and been extremely effective in protecting and preserving our waterways is my good friend and neighbor, Wes Jones. In fact, Wes and I were at the latest meeting of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Change in Charleston recently. Our committee, chaired by Wes Jones, is very close to issuing a report that will help guide the state’s efforts to effectively and fairly manage the shorelines of South Carolina.

From a historical perspective, you can draw a straight line from our task today on the Blue Ribbon Committee to the work of the SC Coastal Council (now SCDHEC-SCOCRM) which was, incidentally, chaired by our own Wes Jones, some twenty years ago. The charge then, as now, is to use the best science, harnessed to the best engineering practices, to protect the waters and the adjacent lands that are so critical to the quality of life and economic viability of our state.
You might have heard that DHEC has recently reopened a significant portion of the May River that had been closed to oyster harvesting. It comes as no surprise that the chairman of the Town of Bluffton committee that labored several years to identify and implement ways to return the status of the river to the shellfish standard was, of course, Wes Jones.

On a different but related topic, the Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival is nearing the halfway point. We had a great kickoff Sunday with the Friends of Bluffton Artists Showcase, featuring my buddy Kelly Graham, followed by the Blessing of the Fleet and finishing with the first official oyster roast of the season at Larry and Tina Toomer’s Bluffton Oyster Company. The weather was perfect and there were a ton of folks for each event. Once again, volunteers get it done.

Friday night from 6 to 9 p.m. is Family Night at the Promenade and it’s going to be the coolest thing yet. Miss Judy and Miss Paula at Booksalicious are going to be reading Under Sea books and telling great stories for kids of all ages. Parrott Cove Ice Cream CafĂ© has specials, but they had me at “ice cream”. There will be art and nature projects, sidewalk chalk drawing, and if that wasn’t almost too much, there will be a family movie shown in the park. So bring some folding chairs or blankets, get some ice cream and sprinkles from Parrot Cove, and have a large portion of fun. As a side note, I heard that there may be some pirates in the area, so watch out and be prepared to protect your ice cream.

Next week: my take on Beaufort County’s land preservation program and why it’s one of the best in the country.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

We found the boat, made sure everything was OK and that the rescue dispatcher didn’t send the helo from Tybee. You see, Carlos is a member of the Bluffton Marine Rescue Squadron. When he got the call, he left the game, got in his boat and proceeded to help folks in need. This time, it was only a navigational error and a little inconvenience. Next time, it might be much more serious. You don’t hear too much about the Marine Rescue Squadron, but they are local folks with boats and local knowledge and experience and training in helping boaters, kayakers, swimmers or anyone in distress on the water. Give these good neighbors a pat on the back and remember them when it’s fundraising time. They deserve it.

Sunday the 14th of October is the kickoff of the week long Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival. This is the work of another group of public-spirited volunteers. This year, Mary O’Neil is the President of the organization and Brooks Williams is the Chairman of the Festival Committee. This is the 8th iteration of this event and these folks have gotten so good at it, the event just appears to run itself.

There is a new feature to the Festival taking place this Sunday, which is a showing of local artists called the “Friends of Bluffton Artists”. There will be 75 or so local artists who have been invited to set up on the porches and in the yards of the various galleries and shops around town. This will be a laid-back showing, with time to meet the artists and have a chat or whatever. They will be exhibiting from 11a.m. to 4p.m. on Sunday, followed by the Blessing of the Fleet, and then a serious oyster roast at the Oyster Factory.

A particularly interesting highlight of the show will be the unveiling of an arts and seafood themed sculpture by renowned artist Kelly Graham. This will take place on the grounds of the Bernie Haag Gallery on Calhoun St. around 2 (ish) p.m. This represents a new, and from all accounts, exciting departure for the multi-talented Mr. Graham. The unveiling will be a dramatic event and should not be missed.

Incidentally, Kelly Graham is also doing the concept design and execution of one of the new, creative restaurants currently under construction in the Promenade next door to Capt. Woody’s.

I think it’s great that we can incorporate the arts in the look of our community. It’s also fortunate that we have such a strong cadre of volunteers to plan and execute the festivals and other venues that showcase the artists, craftsmen, and creative merchants that make Bluffton such a distinctive part of the Lowcountry.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today Three events last week placed members of your House delegation in a favorable spotlight. On a perfect, early fall evening, at the lovely Sea Pines home of Rita and Dudley King, a good crowd of Rep. Andy Patrick’s friends and supporters gathered for fellowship and to hear Andy and various political luminaries comment on the issues of the day. One of the highlights was a talk given by House Speaker Bobby Harrell in response to a question about his legislative agenda for the upcoming session. Aside from the usual comments on fiscal prudence, he spoke about the need to add specificity and common sense language to our ethics regime. We will also revisit the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) matter, especially since the House passed a strong reform bill that was killed in the Senate last session. The speech was brief, humorous, and definitive. It included just enough “inside baseball” to satisfy the attentive crowd. All in all, it was a great event, with good attendance, superb company, and a rousing tune-up for the opening of the next session of the General Assembly. Friday evening was the much-anticipated “Thank You” soiree for Weston Newton supporters after his primary victory for the newly created House District 120 seat. The weather could not have been better as several hundred hungry well-wishers descended on Rose and Weston Newton’s gorgeous Myrtle Island compound. Cars were parked from the bridge to the circle and young Reedy Newton was pressed into service with the golf cart, ferrying attendees to and from cars and the party. The barbeque was expertly produced by the legendary Broken Arrow Group, a consortium of senior pork cookers who might give the famous Ted Huffman of Bluffton Barbeque a bit of competition were they to relinquish control of most of the economy of the south end of the state and become professional pit men. The presumptive Representative Newton made a few brief, very well received remarks, followed by an equally brief invocation by Congressman Tim Scott. The well-organized buffet was appreciatively assaulted. I left long after my usual bedtime and there was still a huge crowd of happy folks scattered over the yard. Rose and Weston certainly raised the bar for political celebrations. Finally, the Community Matching Grant Fundraiser at the Pine House was as elegant as one would expect from hostess Joanie Heyward. The house is a showplace and the appointments, the food and the beverages were perfectly situated and attended. The turnout, as expected, was huge and represented a good cross section of prosperous Bluffton. I don’t know the final accounting, but I am certain the goal was easily reached. The Bluffton/Jasper County Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) clinic is such a well run and supported operation, folks are eager to help. An interesting sidebar to this good story is the fact that because the new VIM clinic also includes dental and other services, there are some regulatory hurtles to work through, which are similar to those encountered by Dr. Jack McConnell as he organized the original VIM facility on Hilton Head. Fortunately, this representative and other members of the delegation are perfectly positioned and more than ready to help in navigating the state regulatory regime. If good people want to volunteer their services for the betterment of the community, we must make it as effortless as possible for them to get the paperwork and credentials in order. Next week, more policy and less partying (even for good causes).