HANAHAN--Goose Creek Reservoir might as well be an alligator incubator. It's one of thicker nests of the reptiles in the Lowcountry, just off to the side of the busy Rivers Avenue business district. So many gators inhabit the place that they come crawling through the storm drains to Northwoods Mall.
But don't get that trigger finger itching. When hunting season opens Sept. 11, the 600-acre reservoir will be off limits. It's against the law to discharge a firearm in the city of Hanahan, and that means the reservoir. It might be the only sizeable public waterway where alligators can't be hunted.
The city allowed hunting in 2008, the first season opened by the state, but disallowed it in 2009 after what officials said were complaints from residents about noise late at night and concerns about gunfire.
The apparent flip-flop frustrates some hunters, but officials aren't waffling.
"This is not Lake Moultrie or the Cooper River. This is in people's backyards," City Administrator John Cribb said.
That's the issue. A number of subdivisions curl right up to the water's edge. In Eagle Landing, for instance, the driveways to some houses or the kids' slide out back seem to drop right in the drink. Even those waterfront residents, though, aren't so sure whether hunters are more dangerous than the slew of alligators.
So, this year the city hired Gator Getter Consultants to harvest the population down to a manageable number. The company already manages alligators in the Crowfield subdivision lake just upstream.
Residents have mixed feelings. In Indigo Island Reserve, a big alligator
has stretched out at least once in the backyard where 3-year-old Shaan Mahmood lives. His folks tried to shoo the gator back in the water, but it didn't blink.
"Ye-e-e-e-ah," Shaan said, there are a lot of alligators back there in the reeds. "Alligator eat frogs. I'm scared."
Pat Mahmood, his mom, isn't averse to thinning the population but wonders how much it's needed. The family installed a wooden barrier across the shoreline "gator slide" where the big reptile came up and haven't been bothered since.
"I'm more scared of the snakes than the alligators," she said.
Down the road in Eagle Landing, Walter Wong watches alligators within a stone's toss of his porch as he sips morning coffee.
"It's sort of scary sometimes, but I don't feel really threatened," he said. He sees baby gators swim along his yard's edge, and bigger ones occasionally lie on the island a few yards away. He thinks one lives out there.
"There's definitely a lot of alligators. I would advise not to go swimming in the lake," he said. "But I haven't had any ruckus." If the population can be professionally managed, that's fine with Wong. But, if alligators can be safely hunted, he wouldn't try to stop it, he said.
Sandy Hightower, an Eagle Landing resident who used to be a homeowner's association board member, doesn't mince words. She talks about an elderly neighbor whose cat was eaten by an alligator.
"They're out of control," she said. "They prey on small animals and they could take the life of a small child. We don't need alligators crossing the street. We don't need alligators eating our pets. It's gotten that bad."
Hightower, though, has qualms about the city paying to manage the alligators. It's S.C. Natural Resources' job to manage species populations, she said.
Because Hanahan controls the reservoir, DNR doesn't manage it, said Jay Butfiloski, alligator program coordinator. Even nuisance alligator calls are sent to the city. It is the only large body of water he could think of that is managed like that.
The city has contracted to pay Gator Getter Consultants a maximum $1,500 per year, with the payment reduced depending on the amount of hides and meat harvested, Cribb said. Because of the number of alligators now in the reservoir, it's unlikely any fee will be paid the first year, he said. The contract runs through 2011.
The consultant, Ron Russell, will be out in the reservoir this week to do a survey count. Based on what he has seen in Crowfield, he would expect to find about 900 alligators, or about one and a half alligators per acre. In Crowfield, the number has been culled to about one alligator every two acres, which seems to be working, he said.
In Crowfield and the Goose Creek Reservoir, "We're trying to find a carrying capacity that everybody is happy with," he said.
The city will give him that opportunity, Cribb said. "As you know, there's a bunch of gator in that reservoir."