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Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: Colleton County, South Carolina

Additional background prepared by Matheny-Burns, the staff of Industrial Economics, and Jim Titus

Edisto Beach

The Town of Edisto Beach has a year-round population of about 700 residents. The town is on a barrier island immediately seaward of Edisto Island, which is in Charleston County. Development in the town is mostly characterized by low density, single-family beach homes, with the exception of a golf course, about 50 condominium units, and a few restaurants and other commercial establishments,. Development on Edisto, however, has been limited because of the reliance of most town residences and commercial establishments on individual septic systems. Public beach access is provided at about 38 point in the town and through neighboring Edisto Beach State Park. The park covers 1,225 acres and is located within Charleston County portion of the island. Two miles of Edisto Beach in Colleton County were renourished in 1995 at a cost of $1.5 million.

Shore protection is almost certain for the privately owned portion of Edisto Beach. Real estate prices have soared in recent years, with an average beachfront home costing over $1 million and inland homes ranging from $100,000 to $800,000. The planner was unaware of any plans for privately funded beach nourishment on Edisto Beach. Nevertheless, given the high value of this land and the mix of private homes, the county has no doubt that residents or governmental entitles would raise the funds for beach nourishment.

ACE (Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto rivers) Basin

The largest natural asset in the county is the ACE basin. Formed by the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto rivers, the basin offers significant habitat and ecological diversity. The ACE basin drains approximately 20 percent of the state. Among numerous designations, the basin is a National Estuarine Research Reserve Site, a priority habitat protection region under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and one of the sites in The Nature Conservancy's Last Great Places Program. Multiple conservation tools have been employed to protect this area within a partnership of private landowners, environmental organizations, and the public sector.

Colleton County is home to two State Heritage Preserves. The Colleton County Cowbane Preserve (32 acres) is a significant site for the federally endangered plant Canby's dropwort. The St. Helena Sound Preserve spans both Beaufort and Colleton counties, with most of its acreage (7,537 acres) in Colleton. Located at the south end of the ACE basin, the preserve is made up of six islands, which serve as the focal point of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System site. Approximately 70,000 acres are public or private conservation lands in the ACE basin.

We show publicly-owned conservation areas as light green (no shore protection). Conservation areas include two state-owned Wildlife Management Areas in the ACE basin, Donnelley, and Bear Island. The conservation areas also include state-owned Heritage Preserves, Refuges, and State Parks.

Two privately owned plantations constitute more than one-third of the total area of the preserve. The Chehaw-Combahee Plantation at the confluence of the Chehaw and Combahee rivers protects approximately 23,000 acres. Ted Turner owns the Hope plantation, which conserves roughly 15,000 acres at the confluence of the Edisto and Ashepoo rivers. Because these owners have a legal right to protect the shore, the dry land in these plantations is depicted as protection unlikely.

Development in the southern ACE basin is proceeding at a very slow pace. There has been no effort to put sewage infrastructure into place in any part of the preserve. A handful of subdivided lots exist on South Fenwick Island, but currently no one lives there. Our data show this island as almost entirely wetlands and conservation lands, with shore protection unlikely for the few areas outside of the conservation lands. Our data also show approximately one hundred homes on North Fenwick Island around Bennetts Point, along with a marina and a few commercial establishments. This development is not growing and is confined to an area of two to three square miles. Because of the presence of state offices in Bennetts Point, the planning staff believes that shore protection there would be certain. Otherwise, our maps keep this area as blue because the County does not expect development in the foreseeable future.

Growth Areas

The town of Green Pond, located in the north central region of the ACE basin, is the fastest growing community in Colleton County. Green Pond is rapidly being developed in one- to five-acre lots to house people commuting to Beaufort County. US-17 between Green Pond and Jacksonboro is not likely to be developed because of the presence of wetlands and conservation easements.

The County expects development to proceed along SC-303, which connects Green Pond with Walterboro to the north. The county planning staff expects that growth will be constricted to the SC-303 corridor because most of the large plantation tracts adjacent to it are protected by some type of conservation easement or regulation. Given the uncertain pace of development and the geographic constraints, our maps assume that the land within a quarter-mile of this road is likely to be developed and protected.

In contrast to Green Pond, the town of Jacksonboro is experiencing relatively little growth. Much of the land to the northwest of the town lies undeveloped and is used for logging. The county does not expect those areas to be developed for the foreseeable future, and suggested that lands more than two miles from the center of Jacksonboro are unlikely to be protected.

The County expects growth along Alternate US-17 between Walterboro and Cottageville. Staff recommended that we assume that lands within two miles of either side of this section of highway are likely to be developed and protected. Current development in Cottageville mostly consists of mobile homes. Because it is one of the more densely populated places in Colleton County, the County views this area as almost certain to be protected.

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Governments Plan for Development of Most Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea (PDF, 7 pp., 1.3 MB, was originally published in Environmental Research Letters , Issue 3, Volume 4 (2009).

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