On Tuesday, we attended a public meeting called by USDA Rural Utility Service and Central Electric Power Cooperative at St. James Santee Middle School concerning a power line to bring more reliable electrical power to the McClellanville-Awendaw area. During the meeting, these entities presented six potential power routes which, all at some point, will cross the Santee Delta, one of the most pristine habitats on the entire Atlantic Coast.
The Santee Delta is 48,000 acres of coastal marshes including highly significant state and national historic sites and including vast acreages of historic rice fields. Many large landowners have committed their properties to conservation easements in order to maintain the unique character of this landscape.
Over many years, these landowners also have committed considerable sums of money and effort to manage these lands for the benefit of wildlife. An out of character structure such as an elevated power transmission line crossing the Delta at any point would degrade years of community planning, effort and financial commitment.
The majority of residents at the meeting strongly expressed opposition to any of the proposed routes. To them the Santee Delta is a wild and sacred place, a refuge for all kinds of wildlife. Many noted the flawed environmental impact statement suggesting no impact on wildlife, especially birds. To the contrary, there is ample published information and impacts are highly likely.
Places with a high degree of both state and national importance that will be significantly impacted are: White Oak, Hopseewee, Fairfield, Peachtree, Hampton, St. James Santee Church, the King's Highway from Lynches Ferry South, and the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor. Some of these are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two have even a greater recognition, Hopseewee and St. James Santee Church which are registered historic landmarks. Others are currently eligible for national listing.
One of the most historic old homes is Archibald Rutledge's Hampton Plantation. Rutledge was South Carolina's first and longest serving poet laureate (1934-1973).
In 1791 George Washington visited Hampton Plantation - now a state park open to the public. It is a South Carolina Historic Site.
In many of Rutledge's writings, he honors the spiritual aspect of the Santee Delta and speaks of its beauty in his poem, "The Song of the Santee".
Many African Americans, descendants of those who worked the plantations and brought with them the expertise to plant rice, and to manage water flow through the development of trunks, live and work within the Santee Delta area.
By the efforts of their ancestors, many of these plantations have survived, including the trunks still used in wildlife management. The African trunk design enabled rice to be an economically viable crop.
Additionally, several South Carolina Wildlife Management Areas would be adversely affected if some of the power line routes are used, especially one that crosses the Santee Delta Waterfowl Management Area. It would be deadly for flocks of waterfowl flying in poor light.
We join with area residents who question why the existing power line coming from Mount Pleasant up Highway 17 through Awendaw, which is also to be served, isn't a viable option. This is something never clearly explained during the meeting.
Many people who have seen this area speak of the beauty and mystery of all that the Delta offers. The Santee River that flows mythically through the Delta has been a safe home to many threatened endangered species.
Among these birds are Swallow-tail Kites, the American Bald Eagle, the Wood Stork, the Eastern Brown Pelican and others. Newcomers that are expanding their range to this area are the White Pelican and the Roseate Spoonbill.
Many of us cannot tolerate any idea of weather or darkness causing these magnificent species to fly into power lines that could have been placed safely away from them and the folks who live in and love the Santee Delta.
Libby Bernardin is a poet and former newspaper reporter. Phil Wilkinson, a retired biologist, grew up and has worked many years in and around the Santee Delta. They live in Georgetown.