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Environment: County backs plan to create Murrells Inlet, Litchfield bird sanctuaries

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The days of duck hunting in Murrells Inlet may be numbered.

Georgetown County Council adopted a resolution this week supporting a bill filed by state Sen. Ray Cleary to make bird sanctuaries in Murrells Inlet and the area around Midway Inlet in Litchfield

Council Member John Thomas, who introduced the resolution, said the protected area would run from the causeway at Huntington Beach State Park to the Horry County line and from the jetties to the Marsh Walk in Murrells Inlet. The sanctuary in Litchfield Beach would join borders with the one that already exists in the town of Pawleys Island.

“In the last 20, 30 or 40 years, Murrells Inlet and Litchfield have become residential areas,” Cleary said. “People who go out in the inlet think the hunting is probably over-rated. There are not a lot of ducks out there any more.”

Cleary said his bill could have opposition because one of the leaders of the Fish, Game and Forestry Committee is an avid sportsman loathe to give up any hunting areas. The chairman of the committee wanted to know what the Georgetown County Council thought about the idea of a bird sanctuary. It was approved unanimously Tuesday.

“I’ve had many people call,” Cleary said. “They think the area just isn’t wild any more. I’m floating it out there but don’t know where it will go.”

Bill Chandler said there’s a bird sanctuary running from the Murrells Inlet jetties to Huntington Marsh following Oak Creek, but it’s not enforceable. “If they make all of Murrells Inlet into a sanctuary, they won’t have questions about any part of it,” he said.

Chandler doesn’t object to duck hunting but points to the fact that the inlet’s duck population has dwindled to a fraction of what it was 50 years ago.

Chandler and his wife, Anne, like to sit on their dock and watch nature awaken as the sun comes up over the water. Hunters in boats anchor off a muddy flat nearby waiting on ducks roosting in marsh grass to get up and fly to the river.

“When they fire that first shot,” Chandler said, “the ducks are out of here within 10 minutes.”

Chandler said he finds a variety of shore birds dead in the water during duck season.

Naturalist Gates Roll said he can understand why duck hunters enjoy the inlet. “They’ve got a lot of investment getting all the way out here,” he said. “After two shots, you are not going to want to leave. A lot of duck hunters that hunt elsewhere laugh about the idea of hunting in Murrells Inlet because of the setting. We are one of the fastest growing places in the nation. Murrells Inlet is still the true Lowcountry in many ways but an island surrounded by a lot of sprawl.”

Facilities plan mixes the new and the renovated

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

If forced to choose among the $10.5 million worth of projects listed for his school in the district’s proposed facilities plan, Waccamaw High principal David Hammel would be hard pressed to decide between $4.9 million in athletic facilities and $2.9 million classroom space. The $531,000 upgrade to lighting would be nice, but it isn’t a priority. The roof, scheduled for a $665,000 renovation, is doing well since repairs were made a few years back, he said.

“We know five years from now his roof won’t be fine,” School Board Member Richard Kerr said. He served on the committee that worked with a consultant to draft the facilities plan. But he also understands the need for athletic facilities, particularly at a school that offers every sport sanctioned by the S.C. High School League. “It builds a stronger school and a stronger community,” Kerr said.

The facilities plan is a mix of pressing needs and anticipated repairs. The school board is reviewing the $131 million package of additions and renovations. With another $19 million in technology upgrades, $2 million toward a manufacturing center at the local Horry-Georgetown Tech campus and a 4 percent contingency, the plan totals $164.5 million.

“One of the things we don’t have is a timeline,” Kerr said.

That will be the next step now that the district has agreed to move forward with a bond issue to finance the plan, said Todd Weiss, project manager for M.B. Kahn Construction of Columbia, which prepared the plan. It will balance the district’s priorities with the efficiencies of construction, he said.

Heating and air conditioning account for $25.7 million or 23 percent of the proposed work. Expansion and improvement of athletic facilities total $21.6 million or 20 percent. Restroom renovations account for more than 11 percent or $12.6 million. That portion could be higher because the plan only itemizes the cost of major renovations. Some restroom work is listed as part of $20 million in “general renovations.”

At Waccamaw Elementary, the restrooms in the core of the building, built in 1976, have the original fixtures, principal Vervatine Reid said. “The sinks are rusty. The dryers are rusty,” she said. The $779,000 in renovations will make the restrooms cleaner and more appealing, something Reid said is important for young children.

But the top priority at the elementary school is a problem that has defied a fix for many years. “For parents and staff, definitely the No. 1 priority is the front parking lot needs to be redesigned,” Reid said. “It’s been a rough several years.”

Not only do waiting cars block Waverly Road, the current configuration makes deliveries difficult and could block access for emergency vehicles, she said. The facilities plan includes $429,000 for additional parking and canopies. “I’m no contractor,” Reid said, but she thinks that number sounds low. All told, the school is down for $4.5 million in renovations.

Principals say they haven’t heard much response from the community about the facilities plan. Neither has School Board Chairman Jim Dumm. “When things get more detailed and we start to prioritize, then we’ll start to hear something,” he said.

Reading through the recommendations, Dumm said most of the items are “normal wear and tear.” Those include things like the stage curtains at Waccamaw Middle School, which were installed when the school opened in 2001, a project funded by a $109.7 million bond referendum in 1997. Auditorium improvements will help strengthen the drama program at the school, principal Jamie Curry said. And the gym floor needs refinishing. “We use that a lot,” she said.

Other items in the $4.6 million of renovations are routine maintenance. “You don’t want to be in a situation where you have an emergency,” Curry said.

“You have to make sure you do your repairs,” said Tim Carnahan, principal at Waccamaw Intermediate, the district’s newest school. “That’s the main thing.”

The intermediate school is due to get an auxiliary gym and a band room. “Band just took off,” Carnahan said. With over 100 students, they can’t all practice at the same time in the current space. “It really hurts our scheduling,” he said.

Waccamaw High is one of the few schools where new classroom space is proposed. The facilities plan calls for a science lab and a computer lab for its distance-learning program. It will also get a new chorus room and that will free up space for an ROTC program. The home economics classroom will be renovated as a culinary arts classroom.

“We’re cautiously optimistic we’re going to get all the things we asked for,” Hammel said.

Each of the four district high schools is supposed to get an auxiliary gym, rubberized surfaces on their tracks and six tennis courts. Waccamaw’s plan calls for expanded practice fields and new stadium lights and bleachers. Hammel also hopes to include the press box in that list.

There was a suggestion to cut back on some of the athletic projects before the plan was presented to the school board, Kerr said, but he favored keeping them in. “Every principal has a need for more athletic facilities,” he said.

Waccamaw tennis teams played on private tennis courts for years until the county built a tennis complex at Stables Park. It might make more sense to add courts at the park rather than the school, Kerr said. “I go back and forth,” he said.

The issue points to another aspect of the facilities plan. “We have to be fair across the board,” Dumm said. The district is operating under a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to operate schools where the enrollment is almost entirely African-American as long as opportunities for those students aren’t surpassed at other district schools. “It gets to be very, very touchy,” Kerr said.

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