JOHNS ISLAND, SC (ThePeoplesBeat.com) – Charleston County is considering the purchase of more than 90 acres on Johns Island for multi-use including hurricane debris management.
Isaiah White has lived on Johns Island for more than 50 years and told ThePeoplesBeat.com that, “it’s a great concern to [him] because of the environmental impact it would have on this area.”
White lives within half a mile of the proposed site and added that he is “concerned about the smoke, the smoke particles that’ll be in the ground and the air – that will affect me and my family.”
The Charleston County Public Works Department brought the proposal to the county to purchase nearly 100 acres of land between Humbert Road and Main Road at the end of January.
Johns Island residents mobilized quickly and held a meeting on the parking lot of Berkeley Electric Cooperative at 9 a.m. on Saturday February 5.
Councilperson Anna Johnson, who has represented residents of Johns Island for the past 10 years, was the only council member who addressed the frustrated residents in the parking lot.
“I came out today because I wanted the constituents to know how concerned I am about this project as well and about them and their community,” Johnson said.
“I only know about the three different uses that were already presented which have to do with the hauling and chipping. The burning and also the concern for the asian long-horned beetles.”
District 8 representative Johnson was the only councilperson present when a flyer circulated by neighbors showed that Councilperson Jenny Costa Honeycutt would also be present, adding to the frustration of residents who at times raised their voice at Johnson. “I said I am in support… Y’all are trying to eat me up here,” Johnson said to the crowd. A meeting for Wednesday Feb. 9 has been arranged at the county building located at 4045 Bridge View Drive for residents to address county officials. The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m.
Unknown to most residents gathered in the parking lot, Honeycutt was present. She told ThePeoplesBeat.com that she didn’t want to address the people in attendance out of respect for Johnson since it was her district. Honeycutt declined to be interviewed on camera but added that she wanted residents to be able to express their opinion freely and said she would address people at Wednesday’s meeting.
Randall Horres, a lifelong resident of Johns Island who owns a farm nearby, said all of these projects diminish the quality of life on the island. “They have pumps cause the water table is so high and they’ve got all these woodchippers that run almost non-stop,” Horres said.
“My farm never held water until [Berkeley Electric Cooperative] was built and they brought in fill and raised it… Enough is enough. You look at our roads – they’re crumbling because of all of this truck traffic and dump trucks and the bottom line is we don’t trust Charleston County and what they say,” Horres added.
Honeycutt also told ThePeoplesBeat.com that she thought there could be beneficial uses of the land for residents of Johns Island that didn’t involve burning.
Horres says he would consider supporting other uses, “there could be parks, there could be recreation which we desperately need, there could be a museum for Latino and African American history on this island, there could be all kinds of things. But Charleston County and City Council have a history of having their own personal agenda where council members are profiting from these projects and so nobody trusts them and that’s the bottom line.”
Maria Ortega, a nurse who moved to Johns Island from Mount Pleasant two years ago, said she moved there because of the natural life on the island. She was upset she had to find out about the proposal in the news. “So many people don’t even read newspapers anymore. If I, as a responsible resident, want to make a change to my property I have to send a letter to my neighbors informing them of the change and the council is not even doing that to inform us of a harmful change,” Ortega added.
Ortega’s husband and two children have asthma and said that, “if johns island had a lot of undeveloped land then maybe it would be more understandable, but the county has approved to build so many neighborhoods and communities for kids to be raised and now they want to come burn trash or trees, which is the same thing, and harmful to the environment.”
White shared the same concern, “we really need to take the time… [to] look at this slowly and carefully. Because once someone gets hurt or their respiratory system gets messed up there is no coming back.”
Ortega, who is Peruvian, invited other Latinos to make their voices heard at Wednesday’s meeting. “If any Latinos cant’ speak English – I’m here and have another bilingual neighbor and we would be happy to help translate their concerns.”
Officials believe the land there would be beneficial because of an infestation of the Asian longhorned beetles, an invasive species that the USDA says is a threat to America’s hardwood trees.
The proposed land purchase falls within the federal beetle quarantine area. Currently wood cannot legally be removed from the area if it is not processed first.