2006.07.23: July 23, 2006: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Conservation: Environment: The Beaufort Gazette: Kenya RPCV Dana Beach struck out on his own to form the Coastal Conservation League in 1989

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kenya: The Peace Corps in Kenya: 2006.07.23: July 23, 2006: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Conservation: Environment: The Beaufort Gazette: Kenya RPCV Dana Beach struck out on his own to form the Coastal Conservation League in 1989

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Kenya RPCV Dana Beach struck out on his own to form the Coastal Conservation League in 1989

Kenya RPCV Dana Beach struck out on his own to form the Coastal Conservation League in 1989

Many of the league's biggest fights have been protracted for years. Beach recalled a battle at least five years to stop laying new sewer lines in Dorchester County; a "knockdown, drag-out battle" against the state Department of Transportation's plans to widen U.S. 21 to five-lanes on Beaufort County's stretch of the Sea Islands; and a two-year battle against the construction of a north-area high school in Dale.

Kenya RPCV Dana Beach struck out on his own to form the Coastal Conservation League in 1989

Conservationists not afraid to pick a fight

Coastal Conservation League has filed lawsuits against Port Royal, Yemassee annexation plans

Published Sun, Jul 23, 2006

The Beaufort Gazette

New York banker and consultant Dana Beach was fresh from receiving an MBA from the esteemed Wharton School of Business when he fell in love.

First with his future wife, who just returned from a Peace Corps mission in Kenya, then with bird-watching, one of her hobbies.

Soon enough, he couldn't resist the call of the wild and traded in the Wall Street grind to work as an environmental aide to U.S. Rep. Arthur Ravenel in Charleston.

And soon after that he struck out on his own to form the Coastal Conservation League in 1989, aiming to promote responsible use of South Carolina land and encourage the state's counties, towns and cities to think beyond goals of "economic development, road-building and tax responsibility."

"Really there (wasn't) anyone promoting an environmental agenda that had anything to do with local government," Beach said Tuesday.

In 17 years, the league routinely has battled development projects in rural areas as well as infrastructure extensions that facilitate development, such as widening roads or laying new sewer lines.

When protest fails, the league turns to lawsuits.

Keeping an eye on Beaufort County

This year the Coastal Conservation League filed suits against Yemassee and Port Royal, challenging each town's annexation of rural, waterside land and the parcels' rezoning for denser development.

Port Royal annexed the 105 acre Mobley tract in Okatie in March, and in April Yemassee annexed Binden Plantation's 1,300 acres on the Pocotaligo River.

At issue for the league is how each property connects to existing town limits: The Mobley tract is separated from greater Port Royal by two rivers and Binden Plantation is connected to Yemassee by a 20-foot strip of land also annexed in April that runs more than 2 miles.

Jacki Martin, former director of the league's Beaufort office, said the lawsuits serve as a notice to municipalities to take the league's comments seriously.

"They need to mind their Ps and Qs when they are looking at annexation," she said. "(The league) has the resources to back up its commitment."

The league's resources

Beach oversees a $1.7 million budget, 20 employees and 4,000 members.

About 60 percent of the league's money comes from private donors and 30 percent from conservation-minded foundations, Beach said.

The league also works to rally interested residents to fight or amend controversial development plans.

Where volunteer efforts fall short, Beach said, is when issues take years to resolve and require litigation.

The group's endurance and financial backing are two points of pride for Beach.

"We'll be there until we're all wandering around in wheelchairs," he said of challenging Yemassee's annexation.

Many of the league's biggest fights have been protracted for years.

Beach recalled a battle at least five years to stop laying new sewer lines in Dorchester County; a "knockdown, drag-out battle" against the state Department of Transportation's plans to widen U.S. 21 to five-lanes on Beaufort County's stretch of the Sea Islands; and a two-year battle against the construction of a north-area high school in Dale.

"It was one of the last rural areas in Beaufort County, and that goes right to the heart of the mission," said Martin, who led the high school fight from the Beaufort office, and now is working to establish an urban institute for developers.

In these cases, the league claimed success.

The highway was not widened to five lanes and the high school has still not been built, with the Beaufort County Board of Education looking to purchase land in Seabrook, closer to the Beaufort city limits.

But the league doesn't always get its way.

Against its wishes, the State Infrastructure Bank approved $420 million last month for the construction of an extension to the Mark Clark Expressway in Charleston, also known as Interstate 526.

Leon Stavrinakis, chairman of the Charleston County Council and candidate for State House District 119, has led the charge for the controversial extension that jumps to rural Johns Island.

Stavrinakis said while the project has "strained" a generally positive relationship with the league in the past few months, he's valued its input on many zoning decisions and its help in drafting a land-use plan for the county eight years ago.

Stavrinakis said he's sought to explain his position to opponents, including the league, and he wished the favor could be returned.

"When they have a disagreement, (they could) reach out and talk about it before reacting publicly," Stavrinakis said. "Their leadership probably could and should do a better job of that."

Van Willis, Port Royal's town manager, also complained of communication problems with the league.

"Sometimes it seems like a moving target," he said. "It seems like every time one issue is resolved, another one comes up."

Willis said the town spent seven months discussing the Mobley tract annexation and ultimately required better setback requirements and stormwater standards for the property.

Still, the town was slapped with a lawsuit.

"What would be more productive is to create a model environmentally and ecologically for development," Willis said.

On Kiawah Island, things have been smoother.

Mayor Bill Wert praised the group as "hardworking, frank-talking and amicable" in its approach to compromising on the widening of about 10 miles of road.

Familiar foes

While the booming coastal counties have kept the league busy, their most regular source of controversy is the S.C. Department of Transportation.

Beach complained of the department's "thoughtless road-building agenda" and "one size fits all highway widening obsession."

Elizabeth Mabry, executive director of the highway department, said those kind of sentiments are not helpful when considering how to improve new projects.

"It seems like it starts out that way every time," Mabry said of suspicions within the league that her department is out to harm the environment. "I think sometimes that the good things are not remembered."

Beach did remember preserving 12,000 acres on Sandy Island in Georgetown County in 1996 by working with the highway department, who purchased the land.

More often than not, though, the groups are at loggerheads.

While Mabry attributes disagreements to different goals -- safe and efficient transportation versus conservation -- Beach finds more fault with the tenacity of the highway department.

Even if the league prevails and stops roadwork judged damaging, Beach said, "three to four years later they return to desecrate something."

For U.S. 21 in Beaufort County, though, the league is claiming a victory.

Nine years after stopping the five-lane highway on the Sea Islands, the highway department is proceeding with a widening again.

This time it is three lanes wide, conserves many trees and protecting a historic community on St. Helena Island, said Reed Armstrong, a project manager in the group's Beaufort office.

Still, there are too many wasteful and damaging road projects, Beach said, including extending the Mark Clark Expressway.

"This state has proven once again that money flows to political power and away from transportation needs," he said.
Contact Jason Ryan at 986-5532 or jryan@beaufortgazette.com. To comment: beaufortgazette.com.

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