When Boeing learned that its plans to expand near the airport would require filling 154 acres of wetlands, corporate leaders agreed to make things right environmentally. Instead of committing to a small project just to meet mitigation requirements, it committed to protecting more than 3,600 acres of land in the lush but vulnerable Francis Marion National Forest.
By comparison, when the Weiser Company's expansion plans for Centre Point shopping center meant filling in 34 acres of a 125-acre swath of wetlands circling part way around the shopping center, the company offered to mitigate by cleaning up the water of tiny Filbin Creek, which is impaired because of stormwater runoff from Centre Point and I-526.
Not every mitigation plan can be a game changer like Boeing's. But filling wetlands is not to be taken lightly, either, and developers should be held to high standards for mitigation. That doesn't seem to be happening with the Centre Point expansion.
Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, called the plan inferior. "You don't clean up an estuary or a creek by filling in 34 acres of wetlands and putting in sand filters," he said.
And you don't do any favors for the people of North Charleston and the Lowcountry by agreeing to an inadequate mitigation plan. Unfortunately, North Charleston City Council approved it unanimously.
The plan still has to win approval from federal regulators.
When filling wetlands is deemed unavoidable, city leaders have an opportunity - and an obligation - to negotiate for meaningful trade-offs. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey was able to secure from the developer a pledge to give the city land for a new city fire station, land for a stadium for high school sports and a transit station and pedestrian walkway.
Why not secure more meaningful mitigation projects as well? Reporter David Slade described Filbin Creek this way:
"In places, closer to its headwaters, the creek appears to be a drainage ditch, flowing through pipes and engineered ditches, before becoming more creek-like as it nears the Cooper River."
Mayor Summey downplayed the 34 acres to be sacrificed by saying the wetlands were created by an old mining operation and are not natural.
Natural or not, they can be leveraged for more substantial mitigation. And they should be.
It isn't just North Charleston. Local leaders across the region can take a lesson from Boeing.
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