As Berkeley County residents sit in daily traffic snarls on Clements Ferry Road, most are comforted that plans for a widening project are moving forward.
But one man wants the state Department of Transportation to alter plans for the road to save a landmark live oak that's 15 feet around at its trunk and is known locally as the Meeting Tree.
Friday is the deadline to submit comments to Berkeley County. After that, DOT will finalize the route, which also have to get a nod from the city of Charleston and Berkeley County to move forward.
“For whatever reason, the SCDOT is just over-the-top dead-set on cutting this tree down,” said property owner Sammy Sanders. “It is a historic and beautiful tree.”
Widening of Clements Ferry from Interstate 526 to Jack Primus Road is expected to be complete in 2019.
The next phase, which includes the 4.5-mile stretch from Jack Primus to S.C. Highway 41, is in the planning stages.
That’s the part that affects the tree, which is in the right of way across the street from Cainhoy Road in Huger. It has served as a community gathering place for at least a century, locals say. Sanders learned about its significance from his father and others whose families have lived in the area for generations.
The tree has “critical historical significance as it served as a gathering place for the community for generations,” said Jason Crowley, Communities and Transportation Program Director for the Coastal Conservation League.
The project is more than “simply widening a two-lane rural road to an urbanized four-lane curb and gutter highway,” he said. The area has “numerous cultural and natural resources that create a unique sense of place for the community. It is also an area that is experiencing exponential growth.”
Development has resulted in the road becoming a “dangerously congested main thoroughfare,” he said.
Lisa Jordan of Nelliefield Plantation said she would hate to see the tree go, "but the safety of the people who drive the road is more important."
The Coastal Conservation League recommends that the multi-use path and road narrow slightly to avoid the tree.
Sanders thinks the road and nearby bridge over Meeting Creek should be shifted altogether.
Sanders and Crowley are also concerned that current plans could disturb the Cainhoy Methodist Church and Cemetery “Old Ruins,” slightly south of the tree, which includes unmarked African-American gravesites outside the cemetery fence.
Sanders has created a Save the Meeting Tree Facebook page and website. He hopes others join his effort.