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Murrells Inlet: No-hunt zone easier to adopt than bird sanctuary, Goldfinch says

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Battle lines are being drawn over making Murrells Inlet a bird sanctuary.

State Rep. Lee Hewitt said he is hearing more from opponents this week as social media has churned the water regarding possible restrictions on use of the inlet if it’s made a sanctuary.

“I don’t know how much is a misunderstanding of a bird sanctuary or how much is the consequence of having a bird sanctuary,” he said. “One issue that’s come up is trespass and can you drive a boat in a sanctuary.”

Hewitt said the purpose of the forum will be to get answers to those questions. “I’m going to listen with an open mind,” he said.

State Sen. Stephen Goldfinch will be the moderator at a forum today at 6 p.m. at the Murrells Inlet Community Center. He said the conversation has “devolved a little bit.”

Goldfinch said he prefers a no-hunting provision for the inlet rather than making it a sanctuary. There are opinions that a sanctuary will halt clamming, oystering and some other popular activities. “Advocates of a bird sanctuary want me to exempt those activities,” he said, “but making Murrells Inlet a sanctuary will confuse people. All they want is a no-hunting zone and nothing more. If that’s the case, and no hunting is what they want, we can easily accomplish that with a no-hunting provision. No hunting doesn’t mean no fishing. When people see a sign that says ‘Sanctuary,’ what does that mean? Nobody knows.”

The forum is being sponsored by Murrells Inlet 2020. The drive to make the inlet a bird sanctuary was started by long-time resident Bill Chandler who started finding dead shorebirds in the inlet’s creeks after duck hunters had left. He said the few ducks in the inlet fly away at the first gunshots at dawn.

A bill introduced last year by then-Sen. Ray Cleary didn’t get out of committee before the end of the session.

The proposal would add the waters of Murrells Inlet and Midway Inlet to existing bird sanctuaries at Pawleys Island, Brookgreen Gardens and Huntington Beach State Park, creating a 16-mile, continuous sanctuary. It would increase resting and nesting opportunities by approximately 4,000 acres and increase bird diversity and populations for the public to view and enjoy, sanctuary proponents say. A sanctuary would label the area as a major birding and eco-tourism destination, they add.

Proponents say over 1,900 have signed a petition supporting the sanctuary. Opponents say they have over 1,000 names on their petition.

Goldfinch has invited Mike Sabaka from the state Department of Natural Resources to answer legal questions.

The forum was suggested as a means of clearing the air. “I have no idea what’s going to happen,” Goldfinch said. “I’m going to draw some very distinctive buffers to get started, what I believe the delegation will agree to.”

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