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Commentary: Turn "Save Shem Creek" slogan into action

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Shrimp boat and small boat.jpg

Shem Creek Park on a sunny Friday afternoon, from boardwalks to shrimp boats to kayakers and paddleboarders in the water. 

Mount Pleasant elected leaders have unique opportunities to fulfill their promise to “Save Shem Creek,” but the opportunities will sail away if they don’t act quickly. Three critical actions that will keep this town-described “iconic” treasure are in play: the renourishment and preservation of Crab Bank, the potential loss of critical docks for shrimp boats, and an opportunity to put together a master plan for Shem Creek to address safety, zoning, hurricane impacts to existing structures and keeping Shem Creek a working creek.

The Wando docks are up for sale. There is an effort to forever preserve those docks for the fishing and shrimping industry that has not gotten much attention from the town. Once this property is sold, we could see more residential development that would further encroach on the elements that make Shem Creek a working creek — one of the things that makes Shem Creek special. Our working creek has been seen on the covers of Southern Living and many other well-known publications. It is highly unlikely that pictures will be taken of this special part of the Charleston area if the boats and activity that revolve around them are gone.

Much has been written about Crab Bank’s importance to the bird population and its significance to the East Coast. It is unquestionably one of the East Coast’s most important wildlife spots, providing an important nesting area for thousands of birds. Another thing that makes Crab Bank important is the buffer that it gives to Shem Creek and homes on Mount Pleasant’s shore from wakes generated by boats in Charleston Harbor. Maybe just as important is the part that Crab Bank plays in the beauty of the Shem Creek area. I have heard it said that without Crab Bank, the beautiful birds that we all enjoy at the Shem Creek park would go away. Mount Pleasant needs to do whatever is necessary to make sure that Crab Bank continues to exist.

The third opportunity is the plan that the Shem Creek Task Force has been working on. Appointed in 2016, I have chaired this effort with about a dozen dedicated, passionate stakeholders who have spent countless hours to make sure that Shem Creek remains the special place that we all love. The purpose of the Shem Creek Task Force was to develop recommendations to preserve and promote the unique history, nature and economy of the Shem Creek Study Area.

We looked at a large number of issues but the overwhelming majority of the task force noted in their conclusions that the uses in and around the creek should be complementary to the creek’s character, and that since Shem Creek has historically been a working creek its status as such should be maintained. The task force agreed that the shrimping and fishing fleet’s presence in Shem Creek should be preserved. Recreational and business uses in the creek could and should be allowed, but not at the expense of one another. A task force subcommittee was charged with reviewing qualification responses and making recommendations to the elected body. In a letter to Town Council, the task force asked the mayor and Town Council to appropriate $125,000 in addition to the $50,000 already appropriated to fund the study and long-term plan for the creek. Our request has not been considered yet.

The bottom line is this: The town has spent millions of dollars — more than $10 million I think — to acquire property for Shem Creek Park and build all of the infrastructure. Who will care about spending time there if we lose some of the most important parts of the park? It is not enough to say that we want to “Save Shem Creek.” We need to put those words into bold action to show that we really believe it is important. Opportunities go away. So do iconic places.

Cheryll Woods-Flowers is a former mayor of Mount Pleasant.

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