COLUMBIA, SC Two state lawmakers and a recently formed conservation group launched efforts Wednesday to save a government agency that protects open land.
Sens. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, and Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, said they are introducing legislation to keep the S.C. Conservation Bank from closing in 2018. The bank is set to shut down that year unless lawmakers extend it. The bank’s life would be extended 10 years if Campsen and Bannister are successful with their legislation.
Bank supporters, including the Palmetto Land and Water Legacy Alliance, announced the campaign during a news conference Wednesday at the Statehouse.
Since the bank’s inception in 2002, critics have continued to question the need for a government sponsored land protection program. But boosters say the bank helps keep important natural areas from being developed. Funding for the bank comes from a portion of state fees collected when real estate is sold.
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The bank has spent about $135 million since 2002 protecting more than 260,000 acres of land, according to a 2016 agency report. The bank must be reauthorized by lawmakers to prevent its closure.
The Palmetto Land and Water Legacy Alliance was founded last year to seek the bank’s continuation. Major conservation groups are part of the alliance. The alliance plans television ads and has hired lobbyists to help with the effort, spokesman Tim Brett said.
Land preserved with the bank’s help includes the 25,000-acre Woodbury Tract near the Great and Little Pee Dee rivers and property at Stumphouse Mountain, an iconic woodland and historical section of the southern Appalachians near Walhalla.
“The Conservation Bank is one of the greatest tools we have for keeping our economy strong while safeguarding our drinking water, protecting our natural resources and preserving our history and heritage,’’ Bannister said in a news release.