Two South Carolina lawmakers, including Greenville attorney and S.C. House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, and a newly formed conservation group have launched an effort to reauthorize a state agency that protects land and natural resources.
Rep. Bannister, R-Greenville, and Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, recently announced they are introducing legislation to keep the S.C. Conservation Bank open for another 10 years. The conservation bank, which provides easements to protect land and natural resources, is set to close in 2018 unless lawmakers request an extension before June.
“When I introduced the legislation creating the South Carolina Conservation Bank in 2002, there was no state agency whose purpose and funds were directed at preserving our farmlands, waterways, forests, other natural resources, and history. If the Bank is not reauthorized, that will be the case again,” Campsen said in a press release.
Since its creation, critics have questioned the need for a state-funded land protection program that pays to conserve privately owned land. And those in the real estate industry don’t support the bank because it’s funded by property transfer fees. However, supporters say the bank prevents important natural areas from being developed.
The bank has spent about $135 million so far to protect more than 280,000 acres of South Carolina land and natural resources, including several forests, farms, historic sites, and waterways. That includes property at Greenville’s Lake Conestee Nature Park and Paris Mountain State Park.
Bannister and Campsen recently decided to team up with The Palmetto Land and Water Legacy Alliance to gain public support for the bank. Many South Carolina conservation groups and companies, including Greenville-based tire manufacturer Michelin, have joined the alliance, which was formed last year to keep the bank open.
Sen. Chip Campsen discusses the importance of the S.C. Conservation Bank:
The Palmetto Land and Water Legacy Alliance is planning television ads and recently hired lobbyists to raise awareness of the effort, according to spokesman Tim Brett.
Brett added that the alliance’s ultimate goal is to make the bank a permanent state-funded agency. For now, in addition to reauthorizing the bank for another 10 years, the alliance hopes to modify the “death clause” of the current law. That would ensure that the bank receives some funding during lean budget years, instead of cutting it to zero.
“The Conservation Bank is one of the greatest tools we have for keeping our economy strong while safeguarding our drinking water, protecting our natural resources and preserving our history and heritage. I will do everything in my power to see that it’s reauthorized to the fullest extent during this legislative session,” Bannister said.