Recently I watched the movie “Promised Land.” Matt Damon played a guy named Steve Butler who worked for an energy company. His job was to lease land from farmers who allowed his company to drill for natural gas. Steve was good at his job. His strength of success, by his own report, was that he was raised on a Midwestern farm and knew the type of people in the farming communities where he negotiated the leases. He was making big bucks.
As I watched the movie, I began to think of comparisons with Charleston County government’s issues with the I-526 extension. We have had many county officials report that the extension will bring positive change to the area — shorter traffic times and easier commutes. Maybe these officials believe these claims.
Steve Butler certainly believed he was helping revive farm communities. Yet in that fictitious town, there were some concerned people. They learned that in other parts of the country where this company had drilled, livestock was dying and people were getting sick from many of the chemicals that went into the land and water from the drilling. Not everyone was for it.
I guess I’m one of those people the county officials haven’t really thought about much. My house will sit about 800 feet from the road project. I recently took a walk down Riley Road, just like I do about every day. It is difficult to imagine trucks barreling down this road that ends at a tidal creek. As I walked I thought about my neighbors. One of them lives by the creek and works in his yard every day. It is a gorgeous piece of land that he takes pride in.
Another neighbor built the house I live in, and several other homes in the neighborhood. He is a gentle and skilled craftsman. Another neighbor just retired, hoping to enjoy the fruits of her labor on her quiet piece of land. And the marshland. Each day, I see some kind of bird. I climb the oak tree by the creek. I peer through the Spanish moss and see white egrets reflected in the water, and pelicans diving for fish. Once I saw two dolphins surface for air as they swam the brackish waters. And I am just one person. I think of the thousands of people who will be impacted by this project — about the wildlife that will lose their habitats. In my opinion, the pros do not outweigh the cons.
First, there is not enough money to complete the project — already set at over $500 million — an incredible amount to pay for an extension when existing roads and bridges need repairs. And the time saved for commuters would be only a matter of seconds. A light rail system serving the North Area to downtown would make so much more sense — and would be a better use of gas tax funds.
Steve Butler, near the end of the movie, got some clarity. He remembered that when he was an adolescent he and his grandfather painted their barn each spring. He asked his grandpa why they painted every year. “Because it’s our barn, and if we don’t take care of it, nobody else will.” Steve admitted to the townspeople he might not have been right about what he was doing. He changed his mind. He realized the people were more important than his project.
Well, these are “our barns.” And we’re trying to take care of them. Will county officials be humble enough to change their minds and listen to the people of the Lowcountry — the people they claim to know — about the land that is a treasured part of their Southern heritage?
PRISCILLA K. GARATTI