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Offshore drilling: Opposition group plans to expand grassroots campaign

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Property owners of the Litchfield Beaches lined up to sign a petition calling on Georgetown County to oppose offshore oil and gas drilling, but their association stopped short of endorsing the effort at its annual meeting over the weekend.

“This is not a partisan issue. It’s our coast,” said Peg Howell, a North Litchfield resident and leader of Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic, SODA for short. She is a former petroleum engineer who worked on oil rigs off the Gulf Coast. The group is continuing its grassroots campaign, she told the association, and some opponents last week asked the board of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to overturn a staff decision to permit seismic testing to assess oil and gas reserves.

“It’s surprising how much support we have from people who live here and how little we have from our elected officials,” Howell said.

Cindy Bindner, a North Litchfield resident, suggested the association “get behind this and make a statement.”

“It’s not in the mandate of the association,” said Steve Harris, a board member.

“It can be a little problematic if we take a position on this,” said Ladd Dezendorf, the association president. “Some of our members may not agree.”

Membership in the organization is voluntary although it has the legal authority to enforce restrictive covenants in the area placed on property by the original developer. Dezendorf called it a “political issue.”

“I don’t want to get into political stands on a voluntary organization,” Harris said. “It just makes me uncomfortable.”

“I think that’s crazy,” Bindner said. “It’s like ignoring it.”

Harris said he was sympathetic to the goal, but added “I want members who get a Time Warner discount and a landscaped entrance.” That met with applause from an audience that has just got a negotiated rate of $37 a month for cable television and Internet.

Howell wasn’t disappointed. She said the group is organizing a citizens action network, SODA-CAN, to expand its campaign. The initial meeting is June 17 at the Waccamaw Library. The group plans to ask businesses to put up anti-drilling signs and let customers sign petitions. It will hold a concert with the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and it will have a float in the Pawleys Island Fourth of July Parade.

While 18 coastal communities have adopted resolutions against drilling, the town of Pawleys Island and Georgetown County aren’t among them. The state office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management authorized offshore testing this month. The S.C. Environmental Law Project filed a request with the DHEC board last week to review that decision on behalf of conservation groups and the cities of Charleston, Beaufort and Folly Beach.

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