Awendaw park still raising concerns

Workers continue to excavate soil from a future Awendaw Park site. The dirt is being sold help pay for the improvements to the 291-acre property located on Doar Road.

AWENDAW — Work continues on a park site for this tiny town east of the Cooper River, despite an order from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control that it stop.

Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey’s company Jackson Development placed the low bid on a town contract that allows him to mine and sell dirt in exchange for developing trails, open grassy areas and unpaved parking lots and supplying potable water.

Summey said the cease-and-desist order from DHEC has been lifted, but he doesn’t have anything in writing stating that. He said he plans to meet Monday with department officials and will ask for a document.

DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley said the department issued the cease-and-desist order on March 22 for mining activity on the 291-acre park site on Doar Road because work there was not in compliance with the site’s permit. He would not elaborate on how it was out of compliance because the matter is moving through DHEC’s enforcement process. The order remains in place, he said.

Town administrator Bill Wallace said he also thinks the order has been lifted.

“We’re mining out there right now,” he said.

Nearby neighbors said mining activity has ramped up in recent weeks, and that has meant a steady stream of dump trucks leaving and returning to the site each day on Doar Road.

Emma Gaillard, who lives along the narrow road, said she likes to sit on her porch with her dachshund Lila, but the dust and noise from dirt trucks has made that less enjoyable.

“It’s loud, not what I’m used to,” she said.

On a busy day earlier this week, she timed the trucks and one passed by her house every minute, she said.

Lynne Vicary, who also lives on Doar Road not far from the site, said one morning this week the truck traffic was so heavy she had to dart through traffic to get to her mailbox.

Vicary said she and some other residents complained to the S.C. State Transport Police, who told her they are now monitoring the road.

Cpl. Lee Catoe, with the Transport Police, said after receiving complaints Tuesday, officers began monitoring truck traffic on Doar Road. They issued several citations this week, and they took one vehicle and one driver out of service for not meeting regulations.

Vicary also said truck traffic began as early as 6 a.m., and the noise was disturbing residents.

Wallace said he has received a few complaints about early morning noise, but he is certain that trucks are not loading or leaving the site until after 7 a.m. Mining is permitted between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., he said.

Wallace also released to the newspaper an April 4 report that Summey filed with the town. The newspaper sought the annual report through the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Under Summey’s September 2014 contract with the town, he was supposed to submit quarterly reports as well as an annual report on his progress by the end of the calendar year.

The April 4 report was the first one he filed and included three documents:

A half-page list of Summey’s expenses, totaling $314,984.

A timber income statement which stated Summey received $10,183 for selling the trees he cut down to clear the site.

A letter from the Robert Collins Co., which is doing the mining work, that stated 79,282 cubic yards of dirt have been sold and that the company gave Summey $39,641 in compensation.

Grant Reeves, president of the Bulls Bay Overlook Community Association, a 38-property development across from the park site, said he has concerns about the project and has sent two letters to DHEC on behalf of his association.

One of his biggest concerns, he said, is the size of the lake that will be dug. The park’s original proposal included a 50-acre lake, but Summey’s contract calls for an 80-acre lake.

Reeves said he would have expected more detail than what is provided in Summey’s report.

“We’re still looking at a big project without much public transparency,” he said.

Reeves also said he thinks Summey’s report doesn’t correspond to what Summey is asked to do in the development contract.

But Wallace said he’s satisfied with it.

“The main point is how much money he spent, “ Wallace said.

The arrangement between Jackson Development and the town calls for Summey to do $500,000 in work on the park in exchange for the dirt-mining rights to recoup its costs. Once the company recovers its costs, it is to give the town 20 percent of the going rate for dirt. When Summey signed the contract, the going rate was $2.50 per cubic yard — meaning that the town would get at least 50 cents for every cubic yard.

“I’m not questioning what he spent,” Wallace said, and he’s not going to ask Summey for any more detail. “I have no reason to doubt,” he said.

“And to a certain extent, it’s irrelevant to us” as long as Summey reports spending $500,000, Wallace said.

Wallace said digging dirt for a lake has been part of the plan for the site even before the town received $5.2 million from Charleston County’s Greenbelt program to purchase the land.

Previously, a housing development was planned for the site, which would have had a lake in the center.

“Even if we hadn’t bought it,” Wallace said, “there would be a lake.”

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.