SC hauls in $5 million in federal grants to preserve sites up and down the coast | News

The federal government has awarded five grants to protect coastal wetlands in South Carolina covering sites spanning the entire coastal plain. 

The awards, announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week, gave the maximum $1 million amount to each project. In all the cases, any additional project cost will be covered by local or state co-sponsors. 

The program is open to all coastal states, including those that border the Great Lakes. The only other states awarded more grants this year are Virginia and California.

“South Carolina’s punching above its weight for these federal grants,” said J. Raleigh West III, executive director of the S.C. Conservation Bank. “We’re putting together some pretty complex real estate transactions and I hope delivering some real benefit for South Carolina.”

The five conservation awards went to: 

  • The River Oaks tract, a 980-acre parcel in the Waccamaw River basin in Horry County.
  • A 1,964-acre portion of Santee Island, a heavily forested habitat for several challenged species along the Santee River in Georgetown County.
  • An 841-acre parcel along the Black River in Williamsburg County which could be part of a future state park.
  • The 974-acre Meyer Lake tract in Jasper County, which includes 3.5 miles of frontage on the Savannah River.
  • The Oaks Plantation, a 194-acre site along the Ashley River in Charleston County with mature maritime forest.

The Oaks Plantation is owned by Evening Post Industries, the parent company of The Post and Courier. After the land is put under conservation easement it will be transferred to Drayton Hall Preservation Trust. The trust will eventually open the site to the public as it installs infrastructure such as public bathrooms, said Chief Executive Officer Carter Hudgins.

Three of the other sites would be publicly owned by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources as wildlife management areas or preserves, and all four will be opened for public access. 

“Investing in these and the other projects that have gotten approval for grant funding under this program will provide enormous dividends for the future of our coastal wetlands and the wildlife species that live there,” David Lucas, a DNR spokesman, said.

Jason Ayers, coordinator of the South Carolina coastal program at the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the Conservation Bank has led the way in the state’s grant haul and was particularly effective in putting together many partners to make a project work.

This is the first cycle in which the bank was allowed to administer these federal funds after Gov. Henry McMaster gave the bank that privilege last year.

Several other aspects of the projects made them competitive, Ayers said. They include the presence of nationally declining forested wetlands; the promise to protect the land into perpetuity; and the potential to spark more conservation nearby.

“The quality of the landscapes in South Carolina speak for themselves,” Ayers said. “I feel like we’re playing with an advantage for these federal grants.”

Reach Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.