An open letter to Mayor Billy Keyserling from Gordon Fritz

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Photo above: Clear cutting at the new 40 acre Oyster Bluff development on Sam’s Point Road on Lady’s Island.

Hi Billy:

I thoroughly enjoy your newsletters and appreciate your keeping us updated on the many changes occurring here in Beaufort. It is a wonderful role you have assumed as Mayor and I hope it is continued by the Beaufort Mayors as we go forward.

NOT ALL CHANGE, HOWEVER, IS GOOD! There are things occurring in Beaufort and throughout Beaufort County that are impacting our community is such a way as to turn it into “ANYWHERE USA”. Beaufort has earned the distinction of being a very special place to retire, live, visit and enjoy. These accolades have been published numerous times in national publications over the years. We all take pride in these recognitions. We all appreciate how fortunate we are to live here. Beaufort is indeed a very special place to live. WHY? Well we could make a long list which would include our access to clean rivers and creeks and the recreational boating and the fishing they provide. Additionally, our closeness to the ocean, the wonderful unpolluted air we breathe and the congenial grouping of a wide diversity of inhabitants (called “Beaufortonians”) must all be included on the list. We are a coastal community with, among many things; our values are in the arts, community activities and the safety and good educational opportunities for our youth. We are big enough so as to be cosmopolitan but small enough to enjoy each other and our private moments.

A very important item on our list and one that was instrumental in attracting each of us to Beaufort is our MARITIME ENVIRONMENT.

This includes our mild weather with the snow free winters and the delightfully mild spring and fall coolness as well as our warm summer beach weather. We should also include the wild animals that are naturally found here along with the accompanying plant communities. It is this segment of the Beaufort environment that helps make Beaufort such a wonderful place to live and which makes Beaufort different from most of the other towns and cities in the Southeast; and it is coming under attack by forces more interested in monetary profits than maintaining and preserving our extraordinary Beaufort character.

Let me give you but a few examples to which I am alluding:

Recently a Georgia logging enterprise convinced two Lady’s Island landowners to clear cut two ten acre parcels. These areas were denuded of all living vegetation and no cleanup was undertaken nor was there any effort to replant the forest. I learned that this was legal because some time ago there were state level laws (lobbied by the logging industry) circumventing any local laws which allowed the timbering of land in this irresponsible manor to support the profits of the logging companies. It really doesn’t matter that both Beaufort County and the City of Beaufort have laws to keep this “rape” of our environment from occurring.

But this was only the beginning. On a tract of land annexed into the City of Beaufort, our new Publix grocery store was to be located on Lady’s Island across from its previous location. I watched in shock and amassment as the dozers began to remove the mature forest which existed on the property. Not a tree was spared except for a few along the outside edge of the parcel. This included the removal of a very large magnolia which could have been preserved within the parking spaces. I was told following my inquiry (after the fact) that it was permitted because there had to be many storm water pipes and drainage corridors created for the site. Billy, I don’t believe this. I can see no evidence of such installations. Furthermore, if such things were required, why could the engineers and architects not have tried to preserve at least a small portion of the natural forest and to comply as much as possible with the existing Beaufort City tree ordinance? My guess is that it was cheaper to develop the location by cutting everything down and planting 2 inch saplings around the parking lot. The problem with this is that we get a huge paved parking lot with no shade or natural habitat for the naturally occurring wildlife. We now get to watch the two inch saplings grow over the next 100 years to finally replace what we have lost. I see this as just another sacrifice in the name of progress to preserve the profits of a few at the expense of the rest of us.

There is more. The old Publix location has been sold and a new Kroger is said to be coming. The numerous trees, saved a decade ago when Publix first built here on Lady’s Island, have all been marked with surveyors tape as well as those located on the triangular property behind the existing building. I understand that the old store will be demolished and that a large shopping center is to be built on the entire parcel. This will undoubtedly require the removal of most or all of the tree cover which includes several very large live oaks. This parcel has also been annexed into the City of Beaufort and we may lose again part of our maritime forest. Will this tract also require extensive storm water drains and pipes?

I am saddened to report that it does not stop here. We have a new Walmart scheduled to be built next to the lady’s Island Airport. I don’t think I have to say anything about what will happen to this location as evidenced by the Walmart location on the other side of town. We Beaufortonians are again going to have to absorb the abuse to our environment in the interest of the profits of another outside company for the sake of progress.

As a final example, and there are many more that I could list, let me tell you of the most recent atrocity. Drive down Sam’s Point Road about a mile from the Publix stores and look to your left. You will see a huge new scar of 40 or more acres. This is the newest contribution to our wonderful Beaufort community by the DR Horton Construction Company and their subsidiary the Lather Construction (Site Preparation) Company. Horton’s tag line is “America’s Largest Home Builder. This may be true and they are doing their best to make Beaufort like every other bland and featureless community in America. They are large enough and have the political influence and power to bypass our local laws and go through DHEC for special permission to remove all the vegetation from the site and then in an effort to reduce their development cost again, to further evade the laws found in the National Clean Air Act and burn the resulting refuge onsite (for six days and counting). We are going to get a large subdivision with paved streets and lots of lawns without a single mature tree. This site was covered with a mature maritime forest as is evidenced by the adjoining property. Nothing remains. We will have to wait another century for the small sapling they will plant before we get anything resembling a “green environment”. Rape is too gentle a word to describe what is being done to Beaufort by these supposed harbingers of progress.

I believe that it is the responsibility of every person living in Beaufort to take a stand on this issue. I believe that there will be an overwhelming number of us who find this “progress” unacceptable and will demand that our politicians do a better job of protecting the things that make Beaufort the great place it has become. I am not against progress. I welcome smart growth. Growth that recognizes local standards and values. Growth for more that providing increased profits to often absentee participants.

I would like to see this email published in your next newsletter. We need to all start to think about what undesirable change can do to our community. Beaufort is a wonderful exception to the general rule. Let’s not lose it.

Gordon Fritz of Lady’s Island, SC

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