February was a notable month for land preservation in Beaufort County. The Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program (Program) closed several important land projects bringing the total number of acres protected through the Program to over 23,600 acres.
The Moody family placed a conservation easement on their 108 acre family farm in northern Beaufort County. Located within the Air Installation Compatible Use Zone (AICUZ), this conservation easement was purchased with funds from both the Program and the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort (MCAS). The property will be conserved forever, protecting farmland, traditional rural land use, wildlife habitat and water quality, and fulfill the MCAS goal of preventing encroachment to protect flight operations and public safety. This conservation easement adds to the existing 3,600 acres that have been protected via conservation easements by the Program and the MCAS. These conservation easements are held by the Beaufort County Open Land Trust on behalf of the County.
Also, the Lowcountry Evergreen and New Leaf tracts, with a combined acreage of almost 109 acres, were purchased by the Program. Both tracts were part of a Planned Unit Development known as Kent Estates with frontage on Hwy 170 and Davis Road within the Town of Bluffton. With stunning mature live oaks, hardwood forests, and wetlands these remarkable properties were purchased in partnership with Beaufort County Stormwater Utility. Removing the possibility of high density residential and commercial development will help to alleviate the effects of the existing area developments and prevent further impairment to the Okatie River. The preservation of land allows the Beaufort County Stormwater Department to use a small portion of the property to construct a regional stormwater detention basin, and two other basins, in an effort to begin to restore water quality in the Okatie River. The regional stormwater basin is partially funded from a generous U.S. EPA Clean Water Act grant totaling $792,000 that the County received in late 2015.The Town of Bluffton also contributed and removed units from the Development Agreement Tract via their TDR and Density Bank. They also extinguished a considerable amount of Development Agreement Fees owed to the Town to help accomplish this project.
The County continues to make an important investment in water quality protection, protecting 11 properties for a total of 645 acres in the Okatie watershed since 2001.