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Speak Out! keeps watch on proposed regulations

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A week after the start of new tree planting and protection organization, Bill Hills announced the birth of another Georgetown County citizens group – this one dedicated to the protection of private property rights.

He started spreading the word about the group, called Speak Out!, and looking for new members this week.

“There has been no organized group to speak out on the rights of property owners to do on their property what is allowed,” Hills said. “Every time an issue comes up in front of Georgetown County Council that has to do with the tightening of regulations and what landowners can do, there are always several groups that speak out in favor of regulations and limiting rights. There’s no group that speaks on behalf of preserving the rights we have.”

Speak Out! will change that.

Like Trees for Tomorrow, introduced two weeks ago by Rick Baumann, Speak Out! was inspired by recent controversy over new rules proposed to protect live oak trees. After the proposed tree protection amendment died an abrupt death in County Council chambers last month, Baumann got to work putting together a group to pick up the slack.

Hills started planning Speak Out! at about the same time. Hills and Baumann are residents of Murrells Inlet, where the debate over tree protection vs. property rights started in October with the cutting of an oak tree on Bend Avenue that got residents stirred up.

Speak Out! won’t look to strike down any existing laws and regulations affecting private property rights. Hills describes it as an e-mail based organization, the members of which don’t come together for meetings or pay dues, but receive information about issues cropping up in the county and actions that could threaten private property rights.

That information will go out to members via e-mail and they will be called to speak out when the issues go before local lawmakers, such as County Council or the county Planning Commission.

“We’ll give them the information they need to contact their representatives on council so they have an avenue to express their opinions on the issues, whether they’re in favor or against,” Hills said.

Julie Perez of Murrells Inlet was among the first to join the group after receiving an e-mail about it from Hills. She said she sees the group as a service to residents who might not otherwise be knowledgeable about local issues.

“These types of groups are so important to people that are busy, such as myself,” said Perez, who runs the Gazebo Inn in Myrtle Beach. “We don’t always get to the root of the issue or hear both sides. I’ve always known Bill to be a very fair person, so he’ll do that. I think it’s important everybody hear both sides, whether they agree or not” with Speak Out!’s position.

For her part, Perez agrees wholeheartedly.

“It’s important that we as property owners try to protect our rights and what we’re able to do with our own property,” she said. “It seems as if little by little our rights and liberties are being taken away from us.”

In addition to collecting information, Hills will also take the group’s opinions before local governing bodies during public hearings and comment sessions before the issues are voted on. In the past when issues came up, public opinion has been voiced when council members repeat what they hear privately from constituents, or through groups that council hears from regularly.

“It’s always these same four groups who make organized contacts to the county council members and there is no opposing opinion expressed as a group,” Hills said. “Organizations like the Sierra Club and the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations, they say they’re speaking out for us. In fact, if you’re not a member, you don’t know they’re looking out and you don’t know exactly what interest they think they’re looking out for.”

After just two weeks, Speak Out! already has about 50 members, something Hills said is a clear sign of how much such a group is needed.

“That’s just the beginning,” he said. “We’re just now getting cards and pamphlets” that help spread the word about the group.

There’s no telling how big and how fast the group might grow once those start to circulate.

Speak Out! is a countywide organization and will look out for the interests of large land owners “as well as folks like myself who live on a residential lot,” Hills said.

For information about Speak Out!, to join or to invite Hills to talk to a group about the organization, e-mail speakout@sc.rr.com.

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