Originally created 12/15/04

Conservation Bank protects key sites in S.C.



COLUMBIA, S.C. - The South Carolina Conservation Bank will spend $11 million to preserve about 25,000 acres, including some of the state's most historical and environmentally sensitive properties.

The bank board voted last week to commit the funds. The Conservation Bank, created by the Legislature two years ago, was funded for the first time this year. A portion of deed recording fees devoted to purchasing land or conservation easements is expected to raise nearly $15 million this year.

Dana Leavitt, an official with the conservation group Upstate Forever, said the effort is overdue in a state that had set aside little money to protect land.

"We are far behind other states, but at least we're starting somewhere," Leavitt said.

Some of the protected land long has been coveted by conservation groups. In 2000, the Sierra Club listed some of the sites as among the state's most significant land for conservation.

Proposals for protected properties include the purchase of about 100 acres near scenic S.C. Highway 11 on the western end of Jocassee Gorges in Pickens County for $497,500.

Officials also hope to use $341,250 to buy 310 acres of the Battle of Camden site in Kershaw County. The state funds will allow the Palmetto Conservation Foundation to pay off the mortgage on the property and begin work on an interpretive center, said George Fields, director of military heritage for the foundation.

Another $2 million will be used to purchase 2,000 acres on the Catawba River and the Great Falls Reservoir. The purchase from Crescent Resources protects nearly 16 miles of waterfront property, said Lindsay Pettus, president of the Katawba Valley Land Trust.

About $2.3 million will be used for conservation easements on 12,280 acres along the Ashley River in Dorchester County. Conservation Bank director Marvin Davant said this is the most complicated of the deals. A Dorchester County development will be downsized from 4,000 homes to 400 if four nearby property owners agree to put their land under easements.

Easements on four family farms covering about 1,120 acres in Horry and Marion counties will cost about $1.4 million. A federal grant program matches state dollars.

Officials will purchase 112 acres along the Reedy River near Greenville for $600,000. The property is an old dairy farm along Lake Conestee, a scenic area of forests, wetlands and rolling meadows.

Another $2 million will be used for a conservation easement on 867 acres of private property adjacent to the entrance to Jones Gap State Park in Greenville County.

About $48,000 will be used to help purchase 7.7 acres in downtown Rock Hill.

Officials also will spend $2 million to buy 8,437 acres in Marion County that previously was used as a hunting plantation. The land will be managed by the Department of Natural Resources.

Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com