By Mark Taylor and Andrea Cooper
Gov. Henry McMaster recently signed into law a bill that reauthorizes the South Carolina Conservation Bank. The bill avoids a June 30, 2018, shutdown of the bank and keeps in business a program that has already provided benefits of incalculable value to our state. With South Carolina’s population now exceeding 5 million and growing at the mind-boggling rate of 177 people every day, we need the Conservation Bank now more than ever.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Conservation Bank, you’ve probably heard of — and hopefully have visited and enjoyed — one or more of the following places in our area: Lake Conestee Nature Park, the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail, Paris Mountain State Park, Jones Gap State Park, Nine Times Forest, and Stumphouse Mountain. These are just a few of the special places in the Upstate that have been acquired or expanded with funding from the bank. Across the entire state, the bank has been directly involved in the protection of nearly 300,000 acres at a cost to the state of only $526 per acre.
While little progress was made on reauthorization last year, the General Assembly went into full gear during this year’s session. Reauthorization bills passed the House and then the Senate by overwhelming margins, and the differences in the two bills were quickly reconciled. The long campaign for reauthorization came to a successful conclusion with the governor’s signature on May 18.
With no sunset provision in the new law, we should never have to fight again for reauthorization. The law, however, eliminates the deed-recording fee as the Conservation Bank’s funding source. From now on, the amount of funding for the bank will be determined in each year’s budget. Bank supporters must remain vigilant and advocate strongly for the appropriation of adequate funding for the bank.
We want to thank Reps. Brian White and Mike Pitts and Sens. Nikki Setzler and Chip Campsen for their leadership and support. And thank you to the Greenville legislative delegation — every member voted in favor of reauthorization. Special kudos to the thousands of South Carolina citizens who spoke out in favor of reauthorization; your voices made the difference.
We also want to recognize Greenville’s own Doug Harper, who was elected the new chair of the Conservation Bank Board at the beginning of this year and played a key role in the reauthorization effort.
People visit South Carolina in droves — and many end up staying here — because of our smiling faces and beautiful places. We owe it to our citizens and future generations to keep South Carolina attractive, vibrant, and special, and the Conservation Bank is one important way to do that.
Mark Taylor is the chair of the board of directors at Upstate Forever and President of SynTerra, a science and engineering consulting firm with headquarters in Greenville. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea Cooper is the executive director of Upstate Forever and can be reached at email@example.com.