Governor seeks budget increase for conservation

Gov. Mark Sanford speaks Monday with Don Pounder, retired Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission chairman. 'I think the land conservation goals are great,' Pounder said. 'It is a common goal of the community to provide proper facilities for the

Years ago, when 89-year-old Don Pounder of Mount Pleasant worked in real estate, newcomers always wanted to know two things: How are the schools, and what recreation opportunities are available?

On Monday, Gov. Mark Sanford and more than a half-dozen state legislators said nothing's changed. Open space and land conservation are at the heart of quality of life in South Carolina, and to that end Sanford proposed the state set aside $50 million in the upcoming budget to help preserve natural resources.

"We are literally in a race against time," Sanford said, standing in front of a marsh at Palmetto Islands County Park in Mount Pleasant. "If you were to go out on (Interstate) Highway 26 about 4 o'clock this afternoon, inevitably you'd find congestion.

"If you develop every square inch around each one of the metropolitan areas of this state, one of the inevitable byproducts is a deterioration of the quality of life that people experience in this state."

Sanford will include the request in his upcoming executive budget to be allocated to the state Conservation Bank, an agency that buys land and conservation easements to block development and uses private money and federal funds to leverage deals.

Rep. Wallace Scarborough, R-James Island, said he supports the request and would like to see some of the money used to help protect wetlands and small islands around Charleston.

"I don't know if we are focusing enough on that," he said. "We're getting build-out on James Island. I hope we can stop the tide."

Since the bank was first funded in July 2004, it has protected more than 134,000 acres at a cost of $527 per acre, according to the Governor's Office.

The bank receives about $18 million from a portion of the tax stamp revenue collected in real estate transactions, although that revenue is expected to be down next year because of projected economic downturns.