BY BURNIE MAYBANK

and ASHLEY DEMOSTHENES

Unless reauthorized by the General Assembly, the South Carolina Conservation Bank will be shut down on June 30, 2018, bringing an end to a program that has protected family farms, natural areas, and historic and cultural sites across our state at no cost to taxpayers. That would be a tragic result.

Since it was created by state lawmakers in 2002, the Conservation Bank has helped to protect nearly 300,000 acres around South Carolina. In the Coastal Region (from Horry County to Jasper County) alone, there are currently 99 sites funded by the Conservation Bank, ranging in size from one acre to more than 13,000 acres, each with its own unique values. These projects include:

• At a mere 1.8 acres, the Battery Wilkes Tract in Charleston County is one of the smallest of the coastal projects; however, its inclusion guarantees the public will always have access to a Civil War fortification listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

• Charleston’s acclaimed Angel Oak is the centerpiece of the 35-acre Angel Oak Preserve, which is destined to become a public park.

• One of the largest tracts in the Coastal Region is the Ashley River Historic Site in Dorchester County. This property consists of more than 12,000 acres of an ecologically rich lands and historical landmarks that are now permanently protected.

You can go to sccbank.sc.gov to learn more about all of the amazing properties that have been conserved through the Bank’s efforts.

To safeguard our areas of ecological, cultural and historical importance, lawmakers created the Bank to preserve the state’s unique and often fragile treasures in the face of continued development. The Bank has always been funded by a portion of the state’s share of the fees which are paid each time land is sold in South Carolina. This innovative mechanism ensures that no tax dollars are ever used for its funding.

The program is also completely voluntary: Land trust organizations, state agencies and local governments can apply for grants to acquire either title to, or a conservation easement on, properties with conservation and/or cultural/historic significance. Then it’s up to the landowners to decide whether to accept the grants and protect their properties. They are under no obligation to do so.

Since its inception, the Conservation Bank has faced two ongoing challenges: The first of these is a built-in “death clause” which provides whenever half or more of other state agencies’ budgets are cut, the Conservation Bank receives no funds. Second is the sunset provision, which unless changed, will shut down the Bank next year.

While it would seem obvious that such a beneficial program should be extended, it actually faces a very tough battle. Reauthorization bills have failed to make it out of committee for the last three years.

With the sunset provision so close to taking effect, a broad-based coalition of Bank supporters has established a nonprofit organization, the Palmetto Land and Water Legacy Alliance, with a single mission — to secure Bank reauthorization with neither the sunset provision nor the death clause.

To learn more and show your support for this wonderful program, we invite you to go to www.palmettolandwater.com, as well as the Alliance’s Facebook page. Contributions are welcome but not required. You can make your feelings known, too: During the General Assembly session, we will send you updates and information so that you can contact your representatives in the House and Senate and let them know that you strongly support reauthorization of the Conservation Bank.

Our state population will soon exceed 5 million and is increasing at the astonishing rate of 104 people every day. We owe it to current and future generations of South Carolinians to protect what makes our state so beautiful and special, and the Conservation Bank is one important way to do that.

Burnie Maybank is an attorney in Columbia. Ashley Demosthenes is president and CEO of Lowcountry Land Trust.