Fairlawn Plantation north of Charleston has become the place where business and conservation merge.
First Boeing and now the S.C. State Ports Authority have opted to purchase parts of the historic and environmentally important tract, and in so doing protect its woodlands and wetlands from damaging development.
The SPA purchase last month of 1,100 acres of land adjacent to the Francis Marion Forest is to mitigate for an estimated 334 acres of saltwater intrusion into freshwater wetlands during its upcoming dredging project.
In 2014, Boeing paid The Nature Conservancy and Open Space Institute Land Trust, Inc., $5.4 million to purchase 2,225 acres of Fairlawn and 1,677 acres of the Keystone tract adjoining it.
That purchase was to mitigate for wetlands affected when the aeronautics giant expanded on nearly 500 acres in North Charleston.
The U.S. Forest Service will have ownership of the conservation properties.
The winners are numerous:
The near-extinct, native longleaf pine forest is being restored and conserved in the area. With these conservation purchases, this land will never be developed, allowing for the controlled burning essential to manage the longleaf pine forests and its rich ecosystem. The absence of development means that controlled burning creates no nuisance or hazard to people.
Declared “an important bird area” by the Audubon Society in 2013, Fairlawn is home to the painted bunting, swallow-tailed kite, prothonotary warbler and the rare Bachman warbler.
All the native flora and fauna — and the stunning beauty of Fairlawn — have been considered at risk of urban sprawl as Charleston and Mount Pleasant grow northward.
Instead, it will constitute a large piece of a protected greenbelt that rings much of the urban landscape, including properties along the Cooper River and the ACE Basin south of Charleston.
The acreage is considered so essential to the natural environment that in 2012 the Charleston County Greenbelt program tried to purchase it for $11.9 million. The deal fell through, but the persistence of the conservation community has paid off with these two separate agreements.
Protections are still needed on about 3,000 adjacent acres, according to Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League.
Mr. Beach, whose organization has been instrumental in the effort for longleaf pine restoration, describes the conservation of the Fairlawn area as the work of two decades. And counting.
There are economic benefits related to the mitigations.
Boeing was able to expand, providing for more production and more jobs. The SPA will be able to dredge the harbor to a depth of 52 feet, enabling it to accommodate mammoth new ships, and thereby contribute more to the state’s economy.
Too often businesses and environmentalists are at loggerheads with each other. Industry sees environmentalists as impediments to growth. Environmentalists see the destruction of the natural landscape as an irreversible travesty.
The conservation of Fairlawn Plantation is an indication that these opposing forces can co-exist — and even strengthen each other.