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Environment: Groups rally support for tree protection

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

As the Georgetown County Planning Commission gets ready to take another look at tree protection, two local groups that support conservation are rallying their troops.

At a joint meeting of the Sierra Club’s Winyah Group and the county chapter of the League of Women Voters this week in Litchfield, members were asked to make sure county officials know they want tree protections restored.

“It’s not a guarantee that it’s going to make it past County Council,” John Bracken told the group, explaining a proposed amendment to the county tree ordinance that would give protection to some “landmark” trees, such as very old live oaks. He cited recent comments County Council Member Bob Anderson made regarding concerns about interfering with property rights.

The planning commission will review the proposed amendment when it meets a week from today. The issue will then move to County Council. Proponents of the amendment were encouraged to appear before both groups in support of the amendment.

But as discussion progressed, some members said the amendment isn’t enough. It was suggested that the groups should fight “not for limited, region-specific protections, but to put back what was taken in the first place.”

The suggestion drew nods and murmurs of agreement from several members.

The proposed amendment only applies to trees on the Waccamaw Neck.

The tree ordinance was overhauled last year with an aim at strengthening tree protections. Important gains were made, said conservationists, including protecting trees in waterways. But during the process council voted to remove all protections from single-family residential properties.

Not much was said about it until a year later when, in October, an oak tree estimated to be around 200 years old was cut down at a home in Murrells Inlet.

“I think a number of us were appalled that a tree like that was removed to make way for another swimming pool,” said Bo Ives, who chairs the Sierra Club group. “Swimming pools are not unique. These trees are.”

Sue Myers, who chairs the environmental resources committee for the League, said tree protections are something that the group and the Sierra Club need to “fight to the nail” for.

“We are losing the very thing that brought everybody here in the first place, which is our environmental resources,” she said. “We have such a beautiful environment and such a tremendous, fantastic history in this area, and it is totally being lost.”

Myers has taught a course titled the South for Northerners at the Osher Lifelong Learning Center and said she was motivated by the tree cutting incident in Murrells Inlet to bring it back. Part of the course focuses on teaching newcomers why things, such as very old oak trees, are an important part of the area.

She suggested such a course should be mandatory for incoming council members.

“Isn’t it ironic that developers put the very things on their brochures that they’re removing to build here,” Ives remarked.

Zane Wilson questioned the county’s justification for applying the proposed amendment to only part of the county, expressing concerns it could cause some legal issues.

“I’m afraid we’ll pass it and then it’ll get thrown out of court,” she said.

Wesley Bryant, the county attorney, said the proposed amendment would be part of the zoning ordinance, so legally, the county is in the clear to apply it to a specific geographic area rather than countywide.

County officials want to apply the amendment only to trees on Waccamaw Neck because of the more urban nature of that area. Part of the area is designated as a “critical urban area,” meaning there are special requirements that must be met in terms of controlling stormwater runoff.

“Trees are critical to that,” said Council Member Jerry Oakley, who initiated drafting the proposed ordinance.

Related stories

Oct. 27: No permit required as owner cuts down live oak

Nov. 3: Groups may press for live oak protections

Nov. 24: POA group backs residential tree protection Dec. 1: County takes a second look at protecting live oaks

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