Originally created 02/29/04

Residents upset with clear-cutting



BURNETTOWN - Not long ago, Aiken High School student Vanessa Sheppard enjoyed a view of lush green forest from her family home tucked amid tall stands of pine trees off U.S. Highway 1.

Now her once-secluded home is plainly visible from the road, and she has an altogether different view, as does any motorist driving from Augusta to Aiken on the well-traveled four-lane road, also known as the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway.

"In a way, it's like looking out into a wasteland when you look out your window," said Vanessa, 17. "I really think they could have done a nicer, cleaner job."

Many residents in Midland Valley aren't happy with the clear-cutting done by Southern Pines Inc., of Barnwell, which contracted with Georgia's Savannah River Logging Co. to harvest about 300 acres of timber.

The six-month job is apparently finished, Southern Pines officials say, though thousands of pounds of felled stumps, hacked-up logs and other debris still cover a mile-long stretch of land.

"It looks like a rape scene," Aiken County Councilwoman LaWana McKenzie said bluntly. "That's what I think of every time I go by. It's a shame because it was a very pretty route, particularly in the fall."

Ms. McKenzie said the site is a prime example of why the county needs to develop zoning ordinances that require buffer zones around clear-cutting near public rights of way. Currently, forestry and agricultural lands are exempt from buffer requirements along public rights-of-way, Aiken County zoning official Greg Szymak said.

The harvesting job needed only to meet requirements of the South Carolina Forestry Commission's Best Management Practices. Southern Pines met those requirements, creating a buffer zone around Horse Creek to avoid sediment contamination in the water, said Tom Patton, the group's best management practices manager.

Southern Pines owner Don Houck said the land will be cleaned up for commercial development when it is sold.

The company is negotiating with several parties, he said. But people shouldn't expect the landscape to improve overnight.

"We're not going to do it all at one time; it will be in stages," Mr. Houck said.

As for the land's current appearance, he said, "Whenever you clear-cut land, it isn't going to look the best in the world. It's going to look rough for at least six months to a year."

Mr. Houck's brother Danny, a partner in Southern Pines, said that the company wasn't completely satisfied with the job done by Savannah River Logging.

"I would have done it a little different. I would have used a chipper for all the standing timber, make it look a little cleaner," Mr. Houck said.

He said his company's contract with forester Jim Donnell of Savannah River Logging "stipulated that he would take the wood piles and spread them out away from the roadways."

So far that hasn't been done. Eight months remain on the forester's contract, but there has been no activity at the site since January.

Efforts to reach the logger were unsuccessful this week. No listed phone number could be found for Jim Donnell or Savannah River Logging Co.

Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110,

or stephen.gurr@augustachronicle.com.