Members of this community have gone to great lengths to ensure the Angel Oak is protected and preserved for future generations, but our work is not done.
Last week, the Charleston County Greenbelt Board approved a proposal to purchase an additional 18 acres that are imperative for the protection of he ancient tree. County Council will have the opportunity to vote on the purchase today. It seems like a no-brainer. The recent threat of development had citizens up in arms about anything harming their tree and their way of life.
There are over 11,000 supporters of Save the Angel Oak - and it was easy to get people to support the Angel Oak. Just looking at the tree fills people with inspiration and pride about the kind of place they live in.
Today, the Angel Oak thrives because the ecology of the area has not changed for hundreds and hundreds of years. The tree has wetlands that surround it to ensure it doesn't get too much or too little water. The Angel Oak also has a dense forest that surrounds it and protects it from harsh wind and sunlight.
The Angel Oak had almost everything it needed for survival, except one thing - a voice. When it seemed that development surrounding the tree was imminent, the community joined together and together we formed that voice. And the most amazing part was that our voice was really heard. The original developer went bankrupt and Save the Angel Oak, and the Coastal Conservation League's lawsuit regarding the wetlands provided us with the opportunity to preserve 17 acres adjacent to the tree forever.
The lawsuit ended in a settlement agreement that gave the Lowcountry Open Land Trust the option to purchase that land. The other parcel on the other side of the Angel Oak was under contract with another developer that had the necessary permits to clear the forest and fill wetlands.
LOLT has closed on the first 17-acre parcel, and is now working to purchase the additional 18-acre parcel on the other side of the tree. This is a new opportunity and the only way to ensure the Angel Oak will be safe from development. While we are very grateful to have the first tract of land, the adjacent 18-acre parcel, which is north of the Angel Oak, is the one where development can seriously harm the tree. The wetlands that control the hydrology of the area are located on this parcel. Alteration of the hydrology of the area (due to filling wetlands for development or removal of the forest) is the single greatest threat to the Angel Oak.
This parcel is already permitted to fill those wetlands. That means that if LOLT does not raise enough money to purchase this additional land, any developer could come in and buy the property, fill the wetlands, cut down the surrounding trees, and build cookie-cutter homes 150 feet from Angel Oak Park. You would see roads, houses, and traffic as you looked through the fence at Angel Oak Park, instead of the beautiful forest that you see now.
Aside from the environmental repercussions that would arise from not purchasing this land, we also risk losing the historical significance of the site. Old plats from the late 1700s and early 1800s show a graveyard and African-American settlement near the Angel Oak and St. Johns Episcopal Church, possibly on the 18 acres up for purchase. This was also where important archeological sites and artifacts have been found, which included, but were not limited to: pottery, smoking pipes, arrowheads, even prehistoric lithic scatter associated with the Angel Oak and a Native American village. If we don't purchase this property now while we have the chance, we could undue all of the good we have done as a community for the preservation of this tree.
Please remember how we got here. In 2005, when Sea Island Comprehensive Healthcare (the former owner of the property) was struggling to emerge from bankruptcy and the entire property that included both tracts of land was for sale for $3.4 million, neither the City of Charleston or Charleston County stepped in to buy it. Both said they expected the other to step in and protect the Angel Oak and Sea Island.
We simply cannot afford to make this mistake again. I urge Charleston County Council to do the right thing for the Angel Oak and the people of Charleston County. Please vote to approve greenbelt funding for the purchase of this land.
Over the past few months we have seen the city, county, conservation groups and private citizens all working together to "Save the Angel Oak."
Let's continue that trend and ensure that this topic never has to be debated again.
Samantha J. Siegel is co-founder of Save the Angel Oak.
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