Thursday, March 6, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

After huge budget deliberations last week, it is clear to even the most casual observer that our portion of the Lowcountry is finally being recognized as a valuable contributor to our state’s prosperity. Sometimes it just takes awhile for some of our Upstate colleagues to process the change, although the reality has long been evident and the documentation voluminous.

Your delegation not only seems to have been designed to distribute the available talent to cover the most important issues of the day, we have an advantage that is the envy of every other delegation in the statehouse. That advantage is, of course, you. The level of citizen participation within our districts is so far above the statewide norm, it is a constant source of amazement among all our colleagues, who feel comparatively neglected by those they represent.

The most recent of our visiting groups was the Greater Island Committee, from Hilton Head Island. These community leaders are an outstanding resource as they include most of the chairs of the local and regional civic and political organizations, as well as thoughtful and engaged retirees from all areas of business, the military and the public sector. You can be certain that when the Greater Island Committee is up for a visit, your delegation is there to receive them with the respect and appreciation they deserve.

My only disappointment from last week’s visit was the absence of GIC stalwart Ken George, who had pressing family business back on Hilton Head. Ken has been a trusted and important advisor and friend to not only this legislator and members of our delegation, but also to a number of key state leaders. His ability to accurately measure public sentiment on almost any issue, as well as to create effective tools to move or mobilize that sentiment is approaching legendary status.

One of the most gratifying outcomes of the budget deliberations was our ability to properly fund the renovation needs of the Waddell Mariculture Center in Greater Bluffton. You may remember last year, we provided $930,000 in critical maintenance support for Waddell, only to see it disappear in Conference Committee, as the House and Senate versions of the budget were reconciled. Rep. Weston Newton and I were vocal in our displeasure at the time, and have continued to make the case for these dollars and for the mission of the Waddell Center as well. In conjunction with our efforts, there was a huge outcry from our local business and environmental communities over this obvious shortsightedness. My friend Collins Doughtie wrote several angry but persuasive columns in support of Waddell. My friend Dave Harter, Head of the Hilton Head Sportfishing Club, wrote a number of very good letters to the editors of the local and state papers pointing to the economic impact of the work done by Al Stokes and his cadre of scientists at Waddell to support the water quality and the fish populations of the Lowcountry estuarine systems. Even the real estate folks contributed a strong lobbying effort, as water quality is a large part of making our property values as strong as they are.

Needless to say, the Waddell renovation dollars are in the House budget, as is the line-item appropriation for operations. With reapportionment, Waddell is no longer in District 118, but my friend and colleague, Rep. Weston Newton, of District 120, is more than passing familiar with the great work being done at Waddell. I have every confidence that Weston will do what is necessary to protect this “jewel of the Lowcountry.”

From time to time, both Weston and I will offer updates on the happenings at Waddell. I urge you to visit the site at the end of Sawmill Creek Road, introduce yourself to Al, and take the tour. You will be impressed.