Members of Richland County’s conservation commission want a role in developing the management plan for an expanse of land in Lower Richland slated for public use and protection.
The commission wants the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to allow daily access for a range of activities at Cook’s Mountain and the adjacent Goodwill Plantation, southeast of Columbia. But an agency official said for safety reasons the site would be reserved for hunters during deer and turkey seasons.
Tuesday, County Council gave commission chairwoman Carol Kososki the go-ahead to negotiate with DNR, which wants a letter of support from the county as it moves to finalize plans for the 3,700-acre Wateree River Heritage Preserve.
The county has to sign off on the deal because the preserve removes large tracts from the tax rolls, said Bob Perry, DNR’s director of environmental programs. Perry said the matter goes before the Joint Bond Review Committee on Dec. 3 and the State Budget and Control Board on Dec. 9.
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The agency plans to close the property “completely or in part” for hunting 49 days of the year, Perry said Tuesday.
Quinton Epps, director of the county’s conservation program, said he’s hoping some part of the property can be open daily.
Perry said he’s been working with the citizen conservation commission for more than a year on proposed uses for the land. Kososki said the most meaningful efforts to talk came Monday.
Three outdoorsmen called on the council to endorse DNR’s effort to manage the property in Lower Richland. “It will be open, free, for people to go there,” John Cely said. “All the bird-watchers and hikers and people like that go on DNR property for free.”
But commissioner Virginia Sanders said the state agency needs to involve residents of Lower Richland in planning uses for the property that would generate tourism and preserve cultural history.
“When DNR gets ready to draw up a plan as to how this land is going to be used,” she said, “the conservation commission as well as the people of Lower Richland have to play a part in that.”
Several council members said they wanted the matter resolved quickly. “I don’t know there is a compromise” on the request for unrestricted public access to the property during hunting season, Councilman Seth Rose said.
A Canadian mining company, Romarco Minerals Inc., is acquiring Cook’s Mountain and the adjacent Goodwill Plantation. The company is opening the biggest gold mine in the East and agreed to give the coveted riverfront properties to the state in exchange for mining on up to 1,100 acres of wetlands in Lancaster County.
Perry said Romarco also is providing $4.5 million to DNR, partly to maintain the property.
All told, the company has agreed to protect about 4,800 acres, most in Richland County. DNR dropped concerns about the project after the Richland County property was offered for protection.
In another matter, after lengthy debate, the council agreed to place its new Office of Small Business Opportunity under new procurement director Cheryl Patrick, rather than establish a new department. The vote was 7-4, with members Joyce Dickerson, Julie-Ann Dixon, Norman Jackson and Kelvin Washington opposed.