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Environment: New push for Murrells Inlet bird sanctuary

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Save the date.

Proponents of a bird sanctuary in Murrells Inlet are gathering signatures on petitions to show lawmakers there is public support for the plan. State Sen. Ray Cleary introduced a bill in April to create the sanctuary. It was sent to committee.

“I’m not picking up the Cleary mantle. I’m doing a thorough investigation,” said state Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, who is unopposed on the November ballot to replace Cleary, who did not seek re-election.

Cleary’s bill would have created a bird sanctuary in the “creeks, tributaries, and marshes near Murrells Inlet and Litchfield Inlet,” which is also known as Midway Inlet. The town of Pawleys Island is already a bird sanctuary. Brookgreen Gardens, which owns the property at Huntington Beach State Park, is a wildlife sanctuary. Hunting is prohibited in those areas.

“There are probably more birdwatchers here than hunters,” said Leon Rice, a member of the Preserve Murrells Inlet citizens group that is pushing for a sanctuary. The goal of supporters is to get 300 to 500 signatures on petitions in support of the sanctuary.

Georgetown County Council adopted a resolution supporting Cleary’s bill. Creating a sanctuary will require a new bill to be filed in the legislative session that starts in January.

“People need to tell me and Lee Hewitt and Russell Fry what they think,” Goldfinch said. Hewitt is unopposed for election to replace Goldfinch in House District 108. Fry represents District 106 in southern Horry County.

Hewitt has had calls from supporters. “I have not heard anyone who has come out against it,” he said.

Bill Chandler, a life-long inlet resident who lobbied for the sanctuary, says the waterfowl that used to attract hunters have diminished over the last 50 years. He now sees shore birds floating in the creek near his home that have been shot by hunters.

“Murrells Inlet is so much different than it used to be,” Hewitt said. “It’s probably one of the busiest waterways for boaters.”

That makes the sanctuary a public safety issue as much as an environmental issue, said Gary Weinreich. He is due to make a presentation to Murrells Inlet 2020 and ask the community revitalization group to adopt a resolution in favor of the sanctuary. “Hopefully they will find the idea consistent with their new vision,” he said.

Rice circulated petitions for the sanctuary at Murrells Inlet 2020’s Chowder Talk last week. Whitney Hills, who chairs the group, said she planned to read the bill closely, but wasn’t ready to take a position.

Goldfinch hopes Murrells Inlet 2020 will sponsor a public meeting on the bird sanctuary. Like Hewitt, he has only heard from the proponents. “I give them a lot of deference and respect, but I need to hear from everybody,” he said. “If I don’t hear anything by January, I’m going to operate under the assumption that people want it.”

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