Wednesday, March 26, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

Former Bluffton Mayor Hank Johnston may be best remembered for his speech of many years ago when he laid out the four primary goals of the Town of Bluffton: “Protect the river; protect the river; protect the river; and protect the Old Town.” Times and standards continue to change, but the mandate to “protect the river” is as current as ever. To that end, last week I had a good meeting with folks from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). It was somewhere between a status report and a list of potential projects under consideration for “our river.” We managed to direct a substantial appropriation in the House budget to the care and management of this important estuarine environment.

Part of my investigative oversight was to have a good conversation with Larry and Tina Toomer concerning what needs to happen in order for the May River, along its entire run, to be returned to a pristine standard. For all my years in the statehouse, Larry and Tina have been my “go to” folks when it came to the real story of the May River. These good people know more than anyone else when it comes to what is working, or at least has potential, when caring for this estuary. As long as they are optimistic, then so am I.

In a related but less positive note, the dolphin population of our coastal area seems to remain under threat from the morbillivirus, which killed, or contributed to the deaths of over a hundred of these lovely animals in our coastal waters last year. So far this year, there have been 27 reported strandings of bottlenose dolphins along the South Carolina coast, including one on a Hilton Head beach, and another found in the May River near Bluffton. As we reported in this space last year, please do not touch the stricken dolphins, or try to help. Instead, please call the Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 800-922-5431.

I received a number of calls about the ongoing investigations in Jasper County relating to the much-maligned school district. We reported some of the drama, which occurred at our Jasper Delegation meetings, where citizens wished to be heard regarding their concerns and how the school board did not seem open to those concerns. As chairman of the delegation, I was careful to note that we had no formal role in the official duties of elected officials in the community. We did, however, provide a venue for the airing of those grievances.

I have several calls in to both the FBI and the IRS concerning the investigation. There is a group wishing to set up a hotline to advise folks who are intimidated or reluctant to speak with authorities concerning what they may have personally experienced regarding either the school district or board. I must hold off on any recommendation until we hear back from the investigating authorities. I am personally distressed by this matter, in that there are many good people in Jasper County who have the very best intentions with regard to public education. They should not all be tarred with the same broad brush.

Finally, Mary and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Hilton Head Island patriarch, Joe Fraser. While somewhat less celebrated than his brother Charles Fraser, Joe was nonetheless an integral part of the transformational development of Sea Pines, and this whole part of coastal South Carolina. The Fraser brothers, along with their cadre of brilliant young acolytes, inspired a generation of planners and developers, including yours truly, with the vision of nature-based development, and the profound effect it can have, if done with consummate care and professional sensitivity.