It’s Back

The Union County lake that all reasonable people thought had been put to rest in 2008 is somehow, like Dracula, back from the dead.

Let me refresh your memory if you’ve somehow forgotten this important environmental issue: In 2004 Union County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers entered into an agreement through the Planning Assistance to States program to create a feasibility study for the potential creation of “Patriots Lake,” a 5,000 acre reservoir on private and public land along the Tyger River.

Most of the local and state environmental groups opposed the plan. The Sierra Club, Audubon, S.C. Wildlife Federation, and the Native Plant Society all lined up in opposition and promised stands against the lake. The impoundment would inundate 1,600 acres of freshwater wetlands and destroy waterfowl habitat and the nesting grounds for many species of birds. All this for a real estate pipe dream and a badly conceived plan to dam one of the most beautiful and ecologically important rivers in the piedmont.

These groups all pointed out that the plan to build the lake would lead to a national outcry if public lands were to be converted to benefit a few private interests.

I was opposed from the beginning as well, and have said so in several columns. I said I believe in public land, and as I see it, Union County wanted to create a lake on land that I own, land in the stewardship of the U.S. Forest Service. A decision like that should be discussed not only in Union County, but also in Spartanburg, Greenville, Anderson, Florida, Oregon, and Vermont.

When it was finally released, the feasibility study offered no good news for Union County. In their report on the project the Corps concluded that the lake would be situated over two earthquake faults.

What’s worse, the $187 million boondoggle would take federal land and open it to private development through a series of land swaps and purchase agreements.

In Union County, the few who were rich would get richer, and the lake project would do little for real economic development. The project would be a flash flood, not the kind of deep economic progress that soaks a community and revitalizes it like spring rains.

This report was good news for the Upcountry of South Carolina and for those who love public land. Our elected politicians concluded that Patriots Lake is not the best use of land for economic development. It would take a living river and drown it under an unnecessary impoundment.

But this summer the lake became one of the lead issues in the heated primary election campaign for Congress between Bob Inglis and Trey Gowdy.

Everyone knows that the only way the plan’s moving forward is with a flood of federal dollars, and Bob Inglis has always known the lake’s a bad idea. He said so.

But Trey Gowdy has put the discussion back on the table in spite of overwhelming evidence that this waterlogged potential earmark is our “bridge to nowhere.” Leading into the fall’s regular election you can expect the Union County Lake to bob like flotsam around Congressional District 4 discussions.

Bad ideas float back up in election years. PowerPoints, and partisan favors have been known to push them to the surface in spite of good sense and hard evidence from the agencies that should decide such things.

It’s up to vigilant citizens to drain this lake idea before it moves any further. We need to remind Congress we know that this lake was a bad idea in 2004 when it was proposed. It was a bad idea in 2008 when the Corps of Engineers put it to rest, and it’s still a bad idea as it staggers to life once again with the help of pandering politicians and local P.T. Barnum promoters.

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