As the communities of McClellanville and Awendaw proudly launch a new chamber of commerce, a healthy dose of humility and reflection seems in order.

These communities are nestled within a 400,000 acre fragile and immeasurably valuable wildlife refuge made up of the Francis Marion National Forest, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, Santee Coastal Reserve, and thousands of acres of protected private land.

The highlands, wetlands, creeks, marshes, estuaries, and wildlife of the refuge interact in a fragile symbiotic natural balance.

The area occupied by humans is small by comparison, but activity within this area can vastly impact that balance.

A growing population and construction of paved roads and parking lots increase the volume and toxicity of storm water runoff carrying herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, petroleum wastes and other waste products.

This poses an ominous threat to all waterways, and especially the estuaries of Cape Romain.

South Carolina’s beaches are periodically closed to the public as a result of such pollution. Such levels of contamination would be unthinkable for the estuaries of Cape Romain, a nursery for sea life.

All of Cape Romain and thousands of acres of the national forest are designated as wilderness defined as land untrammeled by human activity. Unrestricted and ill-considered development would have a devastating and irreversible impact on the refuge.

Plans for future development need input from all stakeholders, including governments, and organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and most of all the citizens of the area who have always cherished a profound sense of place and a healthy environmental ethic.

Hopefully, members of the new chamber share these values. There is nothing developers can do to enhance the unprecedented quality of the natural environment this area enjoys but countless ways they can severely degrade it.

This is not simply another piece of real estate to be exploited for the personal gain of a few. This is a priceless treasure that must be vigilantly guarded and protected for the benefit of all in both this and future generations.

James O. McClellan

Pinckney Street