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Chapter 14 | 'A bridge to nowhere'

‘This is a beautiful, pristine, wild area. We need to keep some places like this,’ says McPherson. ‘I oppose the bridge on ecological grounds, although I do also think it’s a great waste of money for no purpose.’
‘This is a beautiful, pristine, wild area. We need to keep some places like this,’ says McPherson. ‘I oppose the bridge on ecological grounds, although I do also think it’s a great waste of money for no purpose.’ Photo by Gerry Melendez

They describe themselves as "little, ordinary homeowners trying to do good." But in 2001, Sandra Marks, Jan Pittard and Jane McPherson began morphing into something more: activists.

They talked with anxious neighbors.

They began a homeowners group, the Low Falls Homeowners Association, and started a petition opposing the bridge.And 1,977 signatures later, 80 percent from Clyburn's district, they're still going strong.

McPherson, 77, has had a long love affair with the Upper Santee Swamp. It has been part of her life since the 1940s, when she began hunting duck and deer with her father at Otter Flat, Indigo Flat and Riser's Old River.

She stocks her friends' freezers with venison and wild pig, which she hunts and butchers herself. Once, in "a little putt-putt boat," she traveled the water from Columbia to Charleston, catching a 25-pound rockfish on the way.

Her best Santee fish tale involves a 40-pound catfish too big for her net. "I took out my pistol and shot her in the head, grabbed her up and put her in the boat."

McPherson stayed in "a weekend place" at Low Falls from 1976 to 1997, when she retired from medical sales, built a small red house with decks and a dock and said goodbye to Columbia.

Marks, 62, has lived in the Low Falls neighborhood since a 1996 move from Charleston. Her husband is retired from AT&T. She works at Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) in Blythewood, "57.9 miles one way."

Pittard, 66, has lived in Low Falls since 1988. However, she and her husband bought their property in 1975, after selling 25 acres on Lake Murray. Until the couple retired they ran Best Western hotels and the Red Fox Restaurant in Columbia.

The trio rhapsodize about fox dens in the front yard, alligators in the backyard, snakes in the boats. Marks calls their neighborhood, a stretch of small houses and manufactured homes on lots backed by docks, boats and slow water, "two blocks from heaven."

But in 2001, they feared all would be lost.

Marks heard of a DOT public meeting at Pine Grove Community Center in Lone Star to vet plans to build a bridge.

After a story in the Orangeburg paper, a neighbor challenged her: "You aren't going to let that bridge be built, are you?" Then there was the television show during which Rep. Jim Clyburn said he had 1,500 signatures in favor of a bridge, adding that those opposed were outsiders, not area residents.

"I said, 'Oh! I live here,'" recalls Marks.

"None of us knew a good reason why it should be built. So we said, 'Let's start our own petition.'"

Calls to local papers led to publicity that "set fire to people," says McPherson. She notes that as residents and commuters, "We are the people it is supposed to benefit, and we're the people who should be gleeful, but we don't want it."

Says Pittard, "A bridge would be from woods to woods." McPherson chimes in, the two singing out, "From nowhere to nowhere."

A popular refrain of opponents, the phrase riffs off a now-dead plan to build from Ketchikan, Alaska, to Gravina Island, population 50, "a bridge to nowhere."

The women say little to no traffic means a bridge would be useless and needless — and destructive. They dismiss the idea a bridge would bring jobs. "No. 1, we don't want industry. No. 2, we don't want a bridge to start with," says Marks. "No. 3, we have deep concerns about a toxic spill from Safety Kleen," which no longer operates but still contains hazardous waste.

The women get particularly agitated about a Clyburn argument that white Charlestonians got a bridge from Charleston to Mount Pleasant, but Lone Star blacks can't get a bridge to Rimini blacks.

"He says it's all about race. It makes me sick. He's trying to make it a race issue," says Marks.

"We are not politicians. We are not racists, and we're certainly not economically biased against anybody."

Says Pittard, "I cannot believe the way politics works."