Wednesday, November 27, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Many thanks for all the good comments on my last, as well as to our friends from Jasper County who turned out for our recent legislative delegation meeting. Sometimes, our Jasper delegation meetings seem to become unfortunately and unnecessarily contentious, with issues that should have been sorted out generations ago. In my opinion, this is because some folks are just stuck in the 60s and 70s and don’t want to change. So be it. Time always cures such conflict.

I had a lot of calls about H.3290, which is the Flow Control Bill, but which has been misleadingly dubbed the Business Freedom To Choose Act by those anxious to benefit from this ill-conceived measure. The misnomer may sound pretty good, but truthfully, it doesn’t promote competition or freedom, but simply allows out-of-state concerns to bring their trash to our state rather than absorb the bother and expense of utilizing their own facilities.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because this legislator fought a similar bill almost a decade ago, only it was nuclear waste that out-of-state concerns wanted to dump in our state. We fought it tooth and nail and finally prevailed. Friends, we are not going to allow our state to become a dumping ground for other’s waste, whether it is medical, nuclear, or household and commercial trash.

The current iteration of this boondoggle was sold to many in the legislature by claims that it only had to do with Horry County, which is patently untrue. I have tried for some time to have a conversation with the trash industry people behind this, but have met only silence. In this case, what is great for New York and New Jersey is bad for South Carolina, and particularly bad for Beaufort County.

Here’s the deal. Landfills are a somewhat necessary evil. Their locations have to be carefully chosen, their construction has to be almost perfect to avoid environmental contamination, and they have a limited lifespan. Our current landfill is in Jasper County and is less than ten years away from the end of it’s useful life. Beaufort County has no appropriate locations for landfills, so the county and municipalities are gearing up to have to haul our trash to installations farther away. If we welcome trash from all over to be trucked to our state, a supply and demand situation will dictate our disposal costs will rise, probably substantially. County and municipal budgets are all strained as it is, and we should not be raising our taxes for the convenience of New York and New Jersey.
I am not that happy with the current level of our taxation as it is, I certainly would not be for any bill that would essentially allow our tax dollars to flow to out-of-state trash haulers and landfill operators. Not surprisingly, Weston Newton and I have fought this bill, and will continue to do everything we can to kill it. One problem is that the bill is extremely convoluted, which allows the trash lobby to focus on this or that section and hope we will overlook the main thrust of the measure, which is detrimental to our state’s interests.

Before I get too worked up, I want to wish you all a great holiday. We have so much to be thankful for, living in this beautiful part of the South Carolina Lowcountry. If there is a bright side to this landfill matter, it might get us to think a little more about being careful with what we discard. Maybe recycle or compost more, or work to attract an innovative group of companies doing creative recycling, creating jobs and less need for landfills. That’s something we could all be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Many thanks for all the good comments on last week’s column. The Waddell event and all that was said about it seems to validate my position that this state facility is of great importance to the local economy. Friends of Waddell is also a great adjunct to the facility which should allow Al Stokes and company to expand some of the offerings on the property. I’m hoping we can get some trails blazed, and perhaps some camp sites and other amenities. These will not only be a fine addition to our visitor possibilities, but they might well provide some potential revenue above what we can allocate from the state.

On the local scene, a lot seems to be about the Old Town. The election was almost a referendum on how the town has handled the quality-of-life issues raised when the bar scene cranked up this summer. Obviously this is a difficult issue and opinions are quickly hardening. This evening at 6, there will be a workshop in the auditorium of town hall to allow staff and Planning Commission to review the recently completed noise survey, as well as to solicit feedback and recommendations from the community. I hope that we will have an overflow crowd for this important meeting. The fact is that controlling noise in a historic area with older structures that may not be well insulated for sound is difficult. It is made more difficult by the level of expectation that the residents in the Historic District have with regard to, not only the noise, but the increased impact of having lots of late- night strangers wandering the streets, perhaps looking for where they may have left their cars.
Having said that, I am convinced that the more of us that participate in the conversation, the better chance we have of coming up with a good solution, or at least something that everyone will be equally unhappy with.

There was something that newly elected councilman Larry Toomer said during one of the candidate forums, something to the effect that “if we had known how loud they would be (meaning the bars), we probably wouldn’t have permitted them.” The fact is that they were permitted, and dollars have been invested because of those permits. We are just going to have to work it out. If two bars have created so much criticism and complaint, imagine four or six bars.

One of the advantages we had in designing the Promenade was that we threw it open early in the process for public comment during many, many workshops. Not only was it an opportunity for folks to throw rocks at me, it was also a chance for my team to see what people wanted, where they wanted it, and what expectations they might have about any impacts. As much as I don’t enjoy being pelted with rocks, rhetorical or otherwise, what we received in public comment was what is now referred to as crowd-source wisdom. Not only did we heed advise about our stormwater system, which is among the best in the state, but we also heard how the community wanted a place for larger crowds to gather, often for civic and charity events, and how they wanted bars and restaurants that were lively, but not a threat to public order. Even the oval configuration of the layout of buildings assured that any noise would be largely contained, like our stormwater, on the property.

Friends, please show up at the town hall tonight for the noise workshop. Remember that all of us are neighbors, who will still be neighbors long after this conflict is resolved. Please be respectful and neighborly. One day, this will all be another of those outlandish Bluffton stories, like the one where the mayor dressed up like a buzzard and rode atop the town garbage truck during the Christmas parade.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

The reports are mostly in on the 6th Annual Taste of Waddell. The fundraising aspect of the event exceeded all our expectations, while the entertainment, the educational value, and the quality of the fresh, local seafood was simply over the moon. Those of you familiar with Chef Michael Sigler and his popular Sheridan Park bistro certainly knew what was in store with his fabulous shrimp dishes. Larry and Tina Toomer’s May River oysters are always the best you have ever had.

Dr. Denson’s assessment of the local cobia fishery had all the serious cobia fishermen (and fisherwomen) just mesmerized. The cobia fishery here is almost an industry unto itself. About the only thing better than landing one of these large, athletic fish, is tackling a cobia steak just off the grill, or sitting at one of our local restaurants that once in a while have these beautiful fish on the menu. The Waddell Mariculture Center is the primary reason that we even know about this fishery. They also make certain, through their research and propagation programs, that we are able to not only possibly land one of these amazing fish, but also share it with friends and family at the supper table.

Some of you tire of me singing the praises of the Waddell Center and all they do. The fact is, that as a businessman, I look at many aspects of government in terms of return on investment. Not all aspects, but a great many. The work of my friend Al Stokes and his fellow scientists at the Waddell Center is the type of investment that Warren Buffett would buy and hold. The fact that it is a part of the government of South Carolina, under the aegis of the Department of Natural Resources, makes me proud. Many of you obviously agree, as Friends of Waddell is a large, thriving organization of folks who get the fact that without these dedicated state employees, our local fishing industry and all the ancillary businesses that benefit from their activity, would be much smaller and far less prosperous. Our return, from a state revenue standpoint, is simply far beyond Mr. Buffett’s best investment.

Many of you are aware that I relinquished the chairmanship of the Beaufort County legislative delegation when I assumed that same position in Jasper County. Senator Tom Davis is now chairman in Beaufort County. Interestingly enough, both delegations have identical seats to fill at our respective delegation meetings. On the Jasper County side, we are looking to fill the position of Veteran’s Affairs Officer. Our meeting of November 20th will, with good fortune, allow us to appoint a person to serve in this important position. In Beaufort County, we hope to appoint a veteran to serve in the same position. This appointment was made necessary by the unfortunate passing of Mr. Edward Ray. There are some criteria for this position other than veteran status. If you are interested or know someone who should be considered, please call or email me, or Senator Davis for more information.

Finally, congratulations to my pal, Larry Toomer, for his election to Bluffton Town Council. There are serious issues in the Old Town that saw seven candidates contest two seats, which in itself is somewhat unusual. Larry was by far the highest vote getter, with the next highest vote getters being both friends, Fred Hamilton and Mike Raymond, who will be tested in the run-off on November 19th. They are good men and will bring experience and wisdom to the final contested seat. I wish them good luck. We are fortunate to have what in baseball might be called a “deep bench.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I have really been enjoying the lovely fall weather, and how the folks are out and about in the Old Town. Things are really happening in the neighborhood with good retail and a ton of folks looking for property, and/or places to live. We recently sold an apartment to a couple from New York who are so impressed with Bluffton, they are considering moving down full time. The phenomenon may be centered in Bluffton but it is certainly a feature of the entire Lowcountry of South Carolina. I don’t have to tell any of you that we live in a very attractive place, with more folks finding us every day.

I have been keeping limited office hours at our new Moon Mi Pizza restaurant in the Promenade. It is pleasant and I like to be able to offer an iced tea to visitors, who usually stay for lunch or dinner. As I have mentioned before, Congressman Sanford also holds his office time in Bluffton at Moon Mi whenever possible, for pretty much the same reasons. It is always gratifying to have either new locals or visitors from the Northeast comment that we have the best pizza this side of New York.

Much of the credit for that goes to my friend Mat Stone, who consistently turns out a great product at Moon Mi. In addition, he also is great at training all the local students we like to hire. Whether they are washing dishes, making the pies, or serving the customers, they get a good education from an all-around pro. I’m willing to wager that some of those well-schooled students will be our competitors in a few years. As a believer in the free market, such an outcome makes us all better, not to mention makes the Old Town consumer have more and better choices. Forgive the analogy, but the economic pie just gets bigger and we all get a better slice.

All this food talk reminds me that this coming Sunday, November 10th, from 3 to 7 p.m., is the 6th Annual Taste of Waddell. It is sponsored by the Friends of Waddell, Hilton Head Sportfishing Club, Bluffton Marine Rescue Squad, and Glidden Professional Paint Stores. Because this is such a popular event, there are only a limited number of reservations available. I have mine, and I suggest you either call Dave Harter at 785-4106, or email and get yours today.

If you are new to the area and want to know more about this world-class research facility, this is your opportunity. If you are a fisherman and want to support the outfit that makes your home waters some of the most productive in the world, you want to attend. If you are interested in keeping our rivers and estuaries healthy, and protecting all the critters, great and small, that thrive in them, you want to be at this event. Also, if you are one of those folks like me, who love to eat well-prepared local seafood, then this is the Sunday afternoon you want to be at the Waddell Mariculture Center, near the end of Sawmill Creek Road, which is across from Tanger Outlet 1, off highway 278 in Greater Bluffton.

The afternoon will also feature a presentation by Dr. Michael Denson, one of the nation’s leading cobia experts. He will speak on the state of our local cobia fishery. Also featured will be Chef Michael Sigler’s famous shrimp dishes, along with Larry and Tina Toomer, of Bluffton Oyster Company, with buckets of succulent May River oysters.
Tickets are $30, which includes everything but wine, beer and oysters.