Conservation is key to prosperity

A dirt road off Highway 41 leads to the center of the Keystone tract. It is one of three parcels that Boeing preserved to help protect the Francis Marion National Forest. (Brad Nettles/File)

In an era where the desire for economic growth is limitless, how do we meet demands when our environmental resources are limited?

The answer lies in identifying areas of agreement between industry and conservationists and seizing those opportunities to work together.

For cities, counties and regions struggling to recover from years of recession and slow economic growth, environmental conservation is often expected to play a subordinate role to economic development. But subscribers to that point of view need look no further than the Lowcountry to see how businesses and conservationists can synthesize their overlapping goals and achieve growth and development while, at the same time, preserving our history and culture and protecting our most precious environmental treasures.

Our area of the country has seen a number of major economic investments in recent years. Lowcountry residents should be proud that so many of these economic investments have gone hand-in-glove with significant conservation efforts.

Boeing has revolutionized the employment landscape and continues to expand its footprint while also embarking on a wetlands mitigation project that will preserve over 4,000 acres of local land. Equally as important but perhaps lesser known is the fact that since 1976, BP Cooper River has operated on only 500 of its 6,000 acres, leaving the other 5,500 undeveloped acres rich with forest, wetlands and wildlife. And the company has done this while continuing to be a strong economic engine for the region, by continually investing in our facilities and our people, and providing high quality jobs that foster exceptional retention.

In late March, business and conservation leaders from around the region met with BP America President John Mingé for a discussion about Lowcountry business and conservation partnerships. They discussed how to apply lessons learned to a future in which industry and environmental protection groups can continue to collaborate on sustainable economic development.

These groups want to build on the successful 2013 launch of the Lowcountry Conservation Initiative, an alliance of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, the Avian Conservation Center and the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE). This initiative sought and continues to seek the critical but achievable balance of land conservation, wildlife protection and an economically prosperous region.

Such cooperation is nothing new for the companies and organizations in the area. The Lowcountry Open Land Trust, State Ports Authority, Coastal Conservation League, the Southern Environmental Law Center and others are to be applauded for coming together on a plan that, in their words, “facilitates the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project while preventing degradation of the Cooper River Corridor.” Local industry and future investments, including Daimler AG, which recently announced an investment that will bring 1,200 jobs to North Charleston, depend on access to the Charleston Port to sustain their business.

BP wasn’t the area’s first major economic investment in 1976, and Daimler AG won’t be the last in 2015. As our region continues to thrive and grow, business interests must work with dedicated conservationists to preserve and protect the environment, culture and history that make our community so strong and rich.

Richard A. Slack is a retired senior level BP executive. He served as plant manager of the BP Cooper River facility from 1994-1998.