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Offshore drilling: Pawleys group wants town to join the opposition

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Members of the Pawleys Island Civic Association, packed into the island’s marshfront chapel for their annual meeting, called on the town’s leadership to oppose offshore drilling for oil and gas. “When you look out at this marsh and I think about it filled with oil, it makes me want to cry,” said Bill Easley, a property owner.

Frank Beattie, another property owner, pointed to a copy of the town’s mission statement that Mayor Bill Otis handed out to civic association members. “The responsibility of Town Council is to protect lives and property,” Beattie said. He asked for a show of hands from those who want the town to oppose offshore drilling.

Linwood Altman, president of the civic association, watched from the podium at the front of the chapel. “It was an overwhelming show of hands in support,” he said.

Otis, who sat in the front row, couldn’t see the hands held high behind him. He said this week he would wait to see what action the civic association board takes, but couldn’t comment on any action by Town Council.

Howerver, Otis also said he opposes a bill that was passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this summer that would allow drilling within 50 miles of the coast.

“I personally consider surface or subsurface drilling or production facilities being allowed between 12 and 30 miles offshore, or less than 50 miles offshore, to be totally irresponsible for South Carolina, and I would join in opposing it,” Otis said.

In opening the Atlantic outer continental shelf to oil and gas exploration earlier this year, the Obama administration said leases would be in federal waters at least 50 miles offshore.

That changes under the bill sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It would allow oil and gas leases within 12 miles of the coast in consultation with the governors of affected states to minimize the impact on “viewsheds.”

The town of Pawleys Island has opposed plans for wind energy turbines if they will be visible from the shore.

The town of Surfside Beach this week adopted a resolution opposing offshore drilling. That leaves Pawleys Island as the last municipality on the coast to weigh in.

“I think Pawleys Island needs to join the other coastal communities,” said Easley.

He and Beattie said it is a question of stewardship. “But stewardship requires action,” Beattie said. “And action starts with leadership.”

He cited the example of a friend on the Gulf Coast whose property value dropped over 50 percent after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. “He is an embittered man,” Beattie said. “We can avoid that, but we must take action.”

“I’m inclined to agree with him,” Altman said. The association board will meet sometime in the next month and he plans to bring it up.

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