By Mike McCombs
Beaufort County Council Members York Glover (District 3) and Paul Sommerville (District 2) hosted a joint district meeting with Beaufort County Board of Education Member William Smith and State Representative Michael Rivers on Thursday, June 24, at the St. Helena Elementary School Cafeteria to discuss community issues.
More than 100 St. Helena and Lady’s Island residents were in attendance, many with questions revolving around storm drainage, road paving and a perceived lack of maintenance involving State and County infrastructure in their communities, as well as some queries or complaints about the proposed Beaufort County Comprehensive Plan.
“(These meetings) are always productive,” Sommerville said. “For citizens, the people that elected us, it’s a chance to voice their concerns, whether they’re happy or unhappy, to voice their feelings. Most people don’t bother. Some do. You don’t always get what you want, but some people just want to know they’re being heard.”
Sommerville downplayed some of the criticism of the county’s comprehensive plan update – Envision Beaufort County – which can be found online at https://bit.ly/3x3UrVh.
“The comprehensive plan is nothing more than a guide,” Sommerville said. “It’s not a tablet that came down from Mount Ararat on some stone. It’s a guide put together by planning professionals. It’s written by professional planners. It’s required by the state. If it’s a good idea, who knows?”
Sommerville said that he didn’t envision there being much change in the actual comprehensive plan update, but rather that concerns raised by St. Helena residents were more likely to have an impact on how things are done.
“Where it’s going to have an effect is when it comes time to do those things that people don’t like, it’s going to come before County Council,” Sommerville said. “And that’s where these concerns will be addressed.”
Noting the community’s passion about their concerns, Glover said residents deserved more details.
“I believe we owe … the citizens of St. Helena and Lady’s Island methodologies in implementing whatever is in the comprehensive plan,” he said. “There is no meat in the plan for implementation.”
Glover said he felt like the pandemic may have caused communication issues between County Council and residents and there is room there for improvement.
And, in general, Glover said County Council could not continue to “neglect this area of the county.”
But as Sommerville pointed out, most of the questions Thursday had little or nothing to do with the Comprehensive Plan. They were simply questions and concerns from people that have grievances.
“Why don’t we have fire hydrants on Warsaw Island?” Sommerville said. “Why isn’t my (drainage) ditch cleaned?”
Questions about a lack of recreation opportunities or facilities, a marker for Penn Center, unregulated septic systems and bad roads – Sommerville said he’d dig a little deeper into every concern voiced and address what he could address.
“That’s what we’re elected for,” he said.
Sommerville and Glover agreed the meeting was productive. And they agreed they’d do it again.
“York and I have already had a discussion, and we’re going to have a follow up meeting,” Sommerville said. “… I can’t tell you exactly when, but yeah, we’re going to have one.”
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.
Above: An irate Jack Ladson, left, makes his remarks to State, County and School District officials during the Joint District Meeting on Thursday, June 24, at St. Helena Elementary School. Officials were on hand to answer St. Helena and Lady’s Island residents’ questions, many of which revolved around storm drainage, road paving and a perceived lack of maintenance involving State and County infrastructure. More than 100 people attended the meeting. Photo by Bob Sofaly