Migration and new construction continue in Beaufort

in Contributors/Scott Graber by


It is Saturday, early, and I’m sitting on my deck waiting for daybreak. Last night we got rain, and our unpainted wooden deck chairs are transferring some of that rain into my aging buttocks.

Although we are still gripped with our virus, our local economy is coming back to life, restaurants and bars filling-up with people who are saying, “To hell with it.”

Although the virus lurks, there is a built-in bias for returning to work and, importantly, to the building of retirement homes, condominiums and, these days, destinations for those seeking assisted living.

This was not always the case in Beaufort County.

When Susan and I arrived in Beaufort County in 1971, it was, well, quiet around here. Yes, there were Marines, and you could hear their A-1 Intruder jets as they descended into the Air Station. If the wind was coming out of the south you could hear the recruits qualifying on the rifle range at Parris Island.

Beyond these sounds, there was silence.

In 1971, there was a bridge to Hilton Head Island but next to nothing in the way of traffic. If you were young and ambitious, you usually left for Atlanta, Charlotte or someplace like Greenville, where there was some traffic, decent jobs and urban noise.

At the same time (1971), a few intrepid retirees decided they could live among the mosquitos and recumbent rattlesnakes on Hilton Head. It was not an easy sell, but Charles Fraser and Fred Hack did have an empty beach and a couple of underused golf courses. And so we heard, for the first time, the sounds of bulldozers, nail guns and circular saws.

In those early days, environmental activism was emerging in parts of the United States — in places like Cleveland, where Love Canal caught on fire from time to time. We did have an early skirmish at St. Phillips Island (near Bay Point) where the cancellation of that project gave environmentalists reason to hope.

But by the mid 1980s, development was under way throughout Beaufort County, and this growth was perceived to be God-ordained. And we were not about to miss out on these construction jobs and the restaurant-filling, early-bird retirees who bought the fried flounder and cole slaw.

About this time, I did a stint on the Planning Commission and what little, negligible opposition we voiced was reliably overturned by the City or the County. It was overturned because there was a rock-solid belief that jobs and job creation were sacraments in the Reformed Church of Latter Day Capitalism and the taxes generated was the Eucharist dropped onto our upturned, outstretched palms.

These days, job creation in the United States is more complicated than security cameras, solar panels and swimming pool maintenance. In today’s Wall Street Journal, I see kids working in artificial intelligence, softwear design and the creation of algorithms.

I don’t actually know what these young people do in their minimalist cubicles, but the demand for this talent will survive our Coronavirus and its efforts to thin out the ranks of the aging, retiring Boomers.

And so I sit in the early morning dampness, believing a vaccine will arrive sooner rather than later — although some will refuse the vaccine believing that it’s ineffective or part of a conspiracy to secrete microscopic computer chips into our vascular systems.

Enough people will decline the vaccine to insure that Covid continues to replicate itself and never really departs our febrile landscape. But while it remains, it will mutate, and many virologists believe it will lose its lethality. Eventually Covid will become the “common cold” and will not send people to the ICU.

And contrary to the predictions of apocalypse — repeated by those who fill up our 24 hour-a-day news feed — I don’t think there will be any profound, societal change of direction here in Beaufort County.

Notwithstanding the beer-drinking crowds on the sandbar and the spike in Covid infections we saw in July, we now see an uptick in local construction. Apparently there is a movement out of New York and Philadelphia and the congested Northeast.

In spite of our history hurricanes, of increased tidal flooding and the recent shaming of Myrtle Beach, migration and new construction continue.

It appears we will continue to develop every centimeter of real estate as a new wave of pandemic refugees decide to leave New York and look for less urban places to live.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com.