One of last SC commercial fishing hubs could close. Land trust seeks funds to save it.

Post & Courier By Bo Peterson

MCCLELLANVILLE — Larry Mcclellan can look from the porch of his century old farmhouse out across Jeremy Creek where the shrimp boats rock under their hanging nets.

Mcclellan captains one of the boats there and his son captains another. The creek, which leads to the rich Bulls Bay shellfish waters, is his livelihood and his life. The hub of it all, where the boats are moored, is the Carolina Seafood dock.

That’s how integral Carolina Seafood owner Rutledge Leland’s business is to McClellanville, the modest fishing village north of Charleston.

Mcclellan was among a roomful of town residents who turned out at a Charleston County Greenbelt meeting last week to support an East Cooper Land Trust request for funding to conserve the Carolina Seafood dock as an open space and cultural heritage worth protecting with sales tax dollars, but also as a business.

The support “is almost unanimous in this town,” Mcclellan said.

Traditional commercial fishing docks like Leland’s are disappearing across the state because of the niche nature of the business in an international market, as well as development pressures on the lucrative waterfront properties.

But in a region where tasty fresh shrimp, oysters and finfish are sought-after delicacies, commercial dock space is critical for offloading, fueling, taking on ice and provisions and conducting general maintenance.

Saving the docks has become a priority for local groups such as the East Cooper trust, which is working with Leland and other McClellanville residents to pay Leland $1.3 million to put the space under a conservation easement.

Shrimp Catch (copy)
Gulls and pelicans swarm above Jeremy Creek as a boat takes its shrimp catch to the Carolina Seafood dock in McClellenville. File/Wade Spees/Staff

Mixing business and nature isn’t a conventional project for conservation groups. But they are turning more to public-private community efforts to conserve the traditions of a place as growth and expansion is seeing the region become more urban. The move has drawn criticism as costing the public too much money in relation to conserving less urban tracts.

Catherine Main, the East Cooper trust director, points to other private-public waterfront conservations seen in Okracoke, North Carolina, and Portland, Maine.

“It has been done before and has been done before successfully,” she said. “We look at culture and history as important to protect the natural and scenic character of the community.”

The trust’s proposal is to put into conservation easement the dock’s 2 acres while opening 1 acre as a community park with a sort of riverwalk working waterfront and restricting commercial use of the other acre to fishing. The Greenbelt committee asked them to resubmit the proposal with more emphasis on the conservation.

The trust plans to go back to the committee with more details and a park design that would include open spaces under live oaks and spots to view wildlife such as dolphins and pelicans.

Leland would add $337,000 to the effort. The conservation payment wouldn’t be a windfall for him, he said. The dock needs to be rebuilt, the seafood house renovated with more advanced equipment.

Carolina Seafood handles 70 percent of the shrimp that comes into Charleston County, which is 30 percent of the shrimp that comes into South Carolina, according to state figures. It is one of the last of a handful of seafood houses left in the state.

The dock is the main mooring for the local commercial boats. A second commercial dock in town has been sold and its seafood house is operating on a lease. The expectation is the property eventually will be developed residentially.

Already the shellfish boats motor down Jeremy Creek past waterfront home docks that cost more than the boat captains’ houses. They pass yacht-size sports fishing boats docked where commercial fishing boats used to tie off.

Rutledge Leland
The East Cooper Land Trust is requesting $1.3 million in Greenbelt funding to help save the Carolina Seafood dock in McClellanville, owned by Rutledge Leland. Provided by Catherine Main, East Cooper Land Trust

Leland is 75 years old. He has made a life at the dock since his father brought him down there as a toddler in a life jacket nearly as big as he was.

Running a seafood house, negotiating prices for varying catches in a market that constantly shifts with supply and demand “is not an easy job to put anybody in,” he said.

“I’ve wanted for years to do something to commit this property to local fishermen. I never could come up with a plan,” he said. “There are a lot of people in town who depend on this dock for a paycheck.”

Leland has talked with the captains about forming a community co-op to run the place and hopes the conservation of the property will help them do it.

He, like everyone else in McClellanville, sees the massive growth in the Charleston area and new homes going up in town.

“It’s a reality. You have to deal with realities,” Leland said. “I would like to see this place set aside for commercial fishing. I’d just hate to see that go away, and I’m going to do everything I can to help keep it.”

Editorial: Deals for Shem Creek docks worth a look

Post & Courier

Two pending deals have the potential to stabilize, and ideally revitalize, the commercial fishing fleet operating out of Shem Creek, but both will require public funding and, in the long run, expanding local seafood markets.

Mount Pleasant is poised to take a direct role in propping up the local seafood industry by buying the Wando dock at the mouth of the creek using town funds, then leasing the tie-ups back to shrimpers and the onshore facilities to seafood processors. The roughly 1-acre property would probably contain a public pocket park as well.

At the same time, East Cooper Land Trust is applying for $1.3 million in Charleston County Greenbelt funds to improve and preserve the Geechie dock, also on Shem Creek. Assuming the funding is granted, the land trust would place a conservation easement on the property to ensure it continues to operate as a seafood dock.

Together, the rebuilding plans could provide reliable, long-term dock space for five or six more commercial vessels, up from the current dozen or so.

Both deals involve some risks. But without the planned public investments, market forces likely would eventually squeeze out the shrimpers and longliners that make Shem Creek a working waterfront and more than just a recreation destination.

Of course, it’s essential for the fishing fleet to have dock space and access to ice and fuel. But stabilizing the industry  will  also mean expanding local seafood markets.

To that end, the town, the land trust, the fishermen and other advocates should consider campaigns and other innovative programs to boost local seafood both directly to customers and to restaurants in the area.

The town of Mount Pleasant, the Charleston County Greenbelt Advisory Board and ultimately County Council must dispassionately evaluate the pros and cons of the two Shem Creek dock projects before committing public funds to them.

While the Wando dock would be essentially public, the Geechie dock, which may include boat tours open to the public, would remain in private hands. And it’s important to note that both efforts stretch the bounds of what the Greenbelt is intended to be.

Neither would preserve a substantial amount of  land,  but both could prevent more intensive development on a vital, fragile waterfront and help save a struggling industry of significant cultural and historic value.

Because both deals involve public funds, the risks and benefits should be made plain before committing limited Greenbelt resources.

In the long run, the Shem Creek culture so many people want to preserve must ultimately support itself, because, as the old saying goes: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Those fishermen will need a place to keep their boats.

Source: Post & Courier

East Cooper Land Trust hosts local dignitaries for 5th annual Mayors Council on Land Conservation

Moultrie News 

On April 22, East Cooper Land Trust celebrated Earth Day by hosting their Fifth annual Mayors Council on Land Conservation in East Cooper. Representatives from local municipalities, county council, and Rep. Joe Cunningham’s office enjoyed a boat ride as they discussed conservation efforts. The outing showcased Conch Creek Islands, almost 400-acres of marsh and high lands purchased by East Cooper Land Trust in 2017 and was sponsored by Mayor Jimmy Carroll (Isle of Palms) and Barrier Island Eco-Tours.

“We want to be a resource for the mayors and other elected officials as they make important decisions that could affect our environment. In addition, as a non-profit land trust, we hold conservation easements on land that make conservation decisions permanent; whereas municipal decisions can be adjusted under future administrations,” said Catherine Main, executive director of East Cooper Land Trust.

East Cooper Land Trust has been working on important initiatives, with support from the municipalities, such as the East Cooper Trail which will connect the Cooper to the Santee River through safe walking and biking trails. The Land Trust cannot do their work without the support of the municipalities, but in turn the organization provides important tools to support the municipalities in park and trail planning as well as cultural preservation. This annual gathering is a venue for the mayors to participate in meaningful conversation and healthy competition regarding how they can continue to support conservation for the benefit of their residents.

East Cooper Land Trust permanently conserves land for the benefit of the people and the environment. From beautiful marshes, to land for local food sources, to small neighborhood parks, 22 properties and more than 800 acres have been protected.

Land conservation priority on Earth Day, as urban sprawl grows in Lowcountry

ABCNews4 By Caroline Balchunas

The nation celebrated Earth Day on Monday. It was a time to reflect on environmental concerns facing the planet. There’s certainly a lot to love about the Lowcountry and a lot to protect.

Between banning single-use plastic bags and off-shore drilling, there’s a lot of environmental efforts in the Charleston-area, but growth and development is making land conservation harder and harder.

“Property values are increasing so much it’s really hard to set aside those lands that are going to be left undeveloped because there’s a lot of value in them,” said Catherine Main, executive director of the East Cooper Land Trust. “Trying to work with landowners to try and purchase land easements is sometimes the best technique to save that land. That’s why programs like the Charleston County Greenbelt Program are so wonderful.”

The non-profit organization is devoted to preserving land to benefit people and the environment. Currently, Main is focused on protecting shrimp docks, land vital to maintaining the availability and access to locally caught seafood.

Main said there’s nothing wrong with development, but there needs to be a balance. She pointed to the few farmlands left in Mount Pleasant as a sign there must be some kind of intervention. She said the owner of Boone Hall Plantation has agreed to a land easement.

“I’m really excited about the Boone Hall opportunity. It is just a phenomenal piece of land,” she said. “I think that is going to be a huge benefit, not only to the Mount Pleasant residents but also to residents in Charleston County.

For Earth Day, Main organized a conservation cruise for the Mayors Council on Land Conservation, which East Cooper Land Trust formed in 2015. The group toured Conch Creek, an island surrounded by 400 acres of pristine salt marsh by the Ben Sawyer Causeway.

“When you look at Isle of Palms, we’re pretty much built out,” said Jimmy Carroll, Mayor of the Isle of Palms. “The last thing you want to see is these little hammocks, hammocks are the little islands, the last thing you want to do is see those developed.”

Carroll joined a small group for the conservation cruise. He said he’s proud of the many efforts to preserve Charleston and said there’s a lot of cooperation between municipalities.

“What really united a lot of us was the offshore drilling,” Carroll said. “Tim Goodwin on Folly Beach, Pat O’Neal on Sullivan’s Island and Will Haynie of Mount Pleasant, we’ve all come together, we talk a lot, we meet a lot, we’re getting ready to meet on Folly Beach again.”

The Charleston County Greenbelt Program plays a major role in land protections. Since its inception in 2004, it’s protected about 30 percent of the lands in Charleston County.

McClellanville working to preserve working waterfront

Live 5 News By Paola Tristan Arruda

MCCLELLANVILLE, SC (WCSC) – McClellanville is a small town working towards a big catch.

The town is trying to protect one of last working waterfronts in the Lowcountry.

Fishing and shrimping remain a major source of income for many residents. However, the future of the local docks is uncertain. The docks sit along Jeremy Creek, ushering in boats from sun up to sun down.

The town has been partnering with the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, Carolina Common Enterprise, and the East Cooper Land Trust, on developing a plan to save the docks.

On Wednesday, those agencies held a town meeting to get public input on what residents want to see for the future of the waterfront.

Part of the plan includes the securing approximately $1.5 million dollars through a grant from the Charleston County Greenbelt fund to save one of the few local commercial fishing docks that are left in the Lowcountry.

“The boats get stacked up four and five boats wide into the creek,” said Catherine Main, executive director of the East Cooper Land Trust. “Boats even come in from North Carolina and other places and it gives them a place to stop over and offload their catch here, then go out and catch more seafood. So it’s not only for the local boats it’s also for people who need a place to stop over.”

“Well it is our industry and we are a fishing village. Everybody’s just been a part of it for years,” Leland said. “Even those that don’t directly work in it.”

People who live in McClellanville believe that if their seafood industry were to die off, the impacts would be felt throughout the Lowcountry and the state.

“For Charleston County, 70 percent of the shrimp that comes into Charleston County comes in through Carolina Seafood. For the entire state its about 35% of the shrimp that comes from Carolina Seafood. So for anyone who loves local seafood its important that we protect this land,” said Main.

Copyright 2019 WCSC. All rights reserved.

Land trust eyeing McClellanville shrimp dock to preserve the industry

ABC News 4 

Shem Creek isn’t the only spot where shrimp docks are dwindling.

McClellanville is dealing with the same issue, as growth and development slowly gobbles up pricey waterfront property where local fishermen need to dock.

Believe it or not, there are only nine working seafood docks in the entire state of South Carolina.

One of the major unloading wholesale facilities is Carolina Seafood located on one of McClellanville’s last remaining shrimp docks along Jeremy Creek.

While it’s not currently for sale, the East Cooper Land Trust is in the process of protecting the land with a conservation easement in case it ever does.

The easement would go along with the deed of the property, prohibiting development on the property, even if it’s sold later on.

It means the land owner would have to give up some property rights, but will be paid the appraised amount.

“We’re rapidly losing our areas where the seafood can work in Charleston County and in the whole state of South Carolina,” said Catherine Main, executive director for the non-profit. “There are really only three creeks used by the seafood industry right now in Charleston County and we’re very close to losing access to two of those. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

Main said they are currently working to appraise Carolina Seafood property. It’s owned and operated by Rutledge Leland who also serves as the town’s mayor. It’s a major player in the seafood business; about 70 percent of the shrimp in Charleston County comes by way of the fish house and roughly 35 percent of the shrimp statewide.

The property is worth millions of dollars, but will likely be appraised for much less.

“I don’t know, I’ve never tried to sell it and I’ve never even considered it,” Leland said. “I was a child here and worked on the docks when I was young.”

Born and raised in McClellanville, Leland said it’s not about the money. He genuinely wants to preserve the old fishing village for generations to come, which means shrimp boats will always have a place to dock. He said the docks service about 20 fishing boats throughout the year.

“I’ve always said to them that I wanted to do everything that I could to make sure they always had a place to unload their seafood,” he said. “There wouldn’t be a domestic seafood industry unless you have a place to unload, an unloading facility because you’ve got to have a place to get the product off the boat in a safe manner. We hope to keep ours like it is.”

It’s preservation also ensures access to local fresh catch. Restaurants like T. W. Graham rely on businesses like Carolina Seafood.

Not only would it be detrimental to my business, but it would be detrimental to the Town of McClellanville,” said owner Patrick Runey. “This is a fishing village, fishing, shrimping, clamming, crabbing, oysters.”

Not everyone is on board with the idea.

Main said the easement is funded through Greenbelt money, which comes from the county’s half-cent sales tax.

Some on the Greenbelt Advisory Board argue Greenbelt money is not supposed to fund the conservation of heritage sites.

 

McClellanville working to preserve local fishing industry

Live 5 News By Alissa Holmes

MCCLELLANVILLE, SC (WCSC) -McClellanville is a small town that produces a big catch.

Fishing and shrimping remain a major source of income for many residents. However the future of the local docks is uncertain. The docks sit along Jeremy Creek, ushering in boats from sun up to sun down.

The fishermen, the mayor, and the community are all working with the East Cooper Land Trust to secure the millions of dollars through grants from the state and Charleston County to save one of the few local commercial fishing docks that are left in the Lowcountry.

“The boats get stacked up four and five boats wide into the creek,” said Catherine Main, Executive Director of The East Cooper Land Trust. “Boats even come in from North Carolina and other places and it gives them a place to stop over and offload their catch here, then go out and catch more seafood. So its not only for the local boats its also for people who need a place to stop over,”

On Wednesday, the community is hosting a meeting with engineers to come up with the best plan of action and they’re inviting you to come.

Many local fisherman are concerned that they won’t have jobs in a few years.

Rut Leland III has been the Mayor of McClellanville for more than 40 years and he also owns Carolina Seafood. Eventually, he wants to retire so he is fighting to ensure that the fishing career is around for generations to come.

Wednesday’s meeting starts at 6 p.m at McClellanville Town Hall.

Copyright 2019 WCSC. All rights reserved.

‘It’s cultural heritage’: 2 of Shem Creek’s last private shrimp docks want taxpayer money

Post & Courier

MOUNT PLEASANT — The privately owned Wando shrimp dock is under contract to be sold and go public. Three-hundred yards away, the Geechie dock owners want public money to help it stay in business.

The fate of two of the last of Shem Creek’s commercial shrimp boat docks hangs on the hooks along the Mount Pleasant waterfront.

The creek is a marquee destination, the place where the shrimp boat fleet is a treasured part of history and the hanging shrimp nets are what tourists and diners come to see. A pricey political tug-of-war is under way over who pays to keep them there.

The group will have to ask the money to come out of unallocated rural funds, even though it’s considered an urban property. That’s because the town of Mount Pleasant wouldn’t sign off on the trust’s request for urban money, which would have been most of the town’s share of allocated Greenbelt funds.

Mount Pleasant, meanwhile, is under contract to buy the Wando dock downstream from the Geechie dock at the mouth of the creek on Charleston Harbor. The purchase would be made from local builder Brett Elrod, using different money.

The difference to town officials for their purchase plan is simple: the Wando dock would be public while the Geechie dock would remain private.

“There are a lot of things being discussed by the town for the use of greenbelt funds that are exciting,” said Councilman Tom O’Rourke, who is heading up the Wando dock effort. “We didn’t think (the Geechie dock) was a good fit at this time.”

That’s not good enough for Elizabeth Moffly, who owns the Geechie dock with her husband, David Moffly. They want to be considered, too.

“They’re buying the Wando dock. We’ve done everything they asked for except they don’t want to give up the money,” Elizabeth Moffly said, referring to the required disclosures and paperwork to apply for the funds.

The couple just put $300,000 into the dock to repair where it’s fallen in, Elizabeth Moffly said. They need to raise the entire dock structure, which holds the Geechie seafood shop. They charge the shrimpers a dockage fee but it’s not enough to make a profit, she said.

“It was for their (shrimpers’) benefit” the dock was raised, she said. “The reason the tourists come down to Shem Creek is to look at the shrimp boats,” she said. “It’s cultural heritage.”

Catherine Main, the East Cooper trust director, told Town Council in March the Geechie dock owners planned to bring on two ecotour boats, as well as shrimp boats. A tour boat would pay $2,000 dockage for every $500 a shrimp boats does. The owner needs to make money while preserving the seafood industry, Main said.

Assets

The 1-acre Wando dock lot and its 350 feet of dock space would provide the town with revenue from leases, as well as be an investment in the future, O’Rourke said.

The town plans to continue leasing to Tarvin Seafood, a business that includes shrimping, and also is looking at leasing to an ice vendor to replace a closed down vendor that supplied shrimpers the ice they need, he said.

“I think we should try to help everybody as much as we can,” O’Rourke said. But “with land increasing in value by the minute, the Wando dock would be an asset the town could sell if the seafood businesses go somewhere else.”

With negotiations under way, the town would not disclose the price being discussed. But O’Rourke said less would be paid than Elrod originally asked. Charleston County values the property at $1.1 million for tax purposes, but the market value might be far more.

“We can’t pay more than what the land is worth,” he said. “We’re paying based on the land value.”

Commercial fishing docks are disappearing across the state because of development pressures on the lucrative waterfront properties. Shem Creek has become a mix of upscale residences, waterfront restaurants and water sports businesses, edging out the shrimp boats.

Yet, untangling public from private interests is becoming more complicated for preservation efforts as property values rise, particularly along the crowding coastal waterfront.

The East Cooper trust approached the town about financing for both the Geechie and Wando docks. Catherine Main, the trust director, said she considers the businesses, which represent one of the town’s earliest industries, important to heritage landscape conservation.

“They are a resources that benefit the entire community. Shem Creek fishing boats are providing industry so we have access to our local seafood,” she said.

If funding is approved for the Geechie dock, some development restrictions would be placed on the property, Main told Town Council in March. But the dock business would continue. Except for the dock and an access levee, the 1.4-acre lot is marsh.

‘Not a suggestion’

Greenbelt money — raised from sales tax — has been used to protect other commercial properties, mostly farm and timberland. But there’s always been a conflict in the program between two competing goals – trying to protect as much land as possible from development versus acquiring land that the public can use and enjoy.

There is precedent for an “urban fund” property to be considered for rural funding by the Greenbelt board. In 2014, an allocation from the rural funds helped Lowcountry Land Trust buy land alongside the massive Angel Oak on Johns Island, even though it was inside the urban boundary.

Charleston County Council approved the allocation partly because it helped protect a beloved natural feature just outside the boundary.

But the council minutes noted, “the council does not intend this action to serve as a suggestion that its general policy to allow the use of rural area Greenbelt funds for purchases inside the county’s urban/suburban boundary.”

The Greenbelt subcommittee meets Wednesday  to discuss rural funding applications.

David Slade contributed to this story.

Event at Oakland Plantation helps protect local lands

Moultrie News

Oakland Plantation is a beautiful property off Porchers Bluff Road between Highway 17 North and Rifle Range Road that has been owned by the Gregorie family for more than a century. East Cooper Land Trust is hosting its 8th annual Race & Roast event there on Sunday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. Because the property is privately owned, it is a unique opportunity for the public to see this historic property.

Funds raised from this event support the local land conservation efforts of East Cooper Land Trust, a non-profit, non-political organization working to conserve urban, suburban and rural parcels of land and connect people to nature via green spaces and trails. 132 acres of Oakland Plantation was permanently conserved by East Cooper Land Trust in 2009. The plantation house, which may date to the 1730s, is thought to be the oldest in Mount Pleasant. The plantation was originally called Youghall but was changed in 1850 to Oakland under the ownership of the Barksdale family because of the majestic cathedral type of oak avenue leading to the house.

For more information about Race & Roast or East Cooper Land Trust visit eastcooperland.org or call 843-224-1849.

East Cooper Land Trust conserves two properties within urban growth boundary

Moultrie News

East Cooper Land Trust recently accepted two land donations from Crescent Homes. Donations by organizations such as Crescent Homes are critical because they ensure that, as homes are constructed in the Charleston area, their neighboring natural and historic landscapes are conserved and intertwined.

The Avenue of Oaks Park is a half-acre parcel designated to be used as a passive recreational park near a new residential development in West Ashley. Three grand oak trees exist on the property and three others overhang the parcel. The oaks are part of a magnificent oak allée canopy. Plans are in the works for the entire 2-acre oak allée to be placed under conservation easement with East Cooper Land Trust. The homeowner’s association will have the option of creating a community garden and trails on the Avenue of Oaks Park parcel.

The Somerset Oaks parcel is 11.04 acres that serves as a scenic buffer and a significant natural habitat for wildlife and plants in Mount Pleasant. The plan is to work with the homeowner’s association to enhance their enjoyment of the area with a walking trail across the property.

Ted Terry with Crescent Homes says, “As a local company we strive to develop neighborhoods and build homes which seamlessly fit into the beautiful Lowcountry landscape. Growth is imminent, but we can help mitigate our overall impact by ensuring the necessary conservation of natural spaces, like that of these two parcel donations, so that future and current community members can enjoy and benefit from what makes Charleston so special.”

In addition to securing these lands under permanent protection from development, other benefits include their potential to reduce flood damage, their function as a screen to block the view of development from the road, and both their recreational and environmental purposes for community conservation.

“While it may appear that there is not much left to protect, there are still some natural areas remaining within our urban growth boundary, conserving natural lands in neighborhoods where children can play and climb trees is critical to children’s health and well-being,” said Catherine Main, East Cooper Land Trust executive director.

Both parties look forward to the future these properties create through their partnership and hope it will inspire additional projects that balance imminent growth with natural spaces.

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