How “green” is the Lowcountry?

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Fifty years ago, Charles Fraser was in tune with the environment long before words like “sustainability,” “organic” and “environmentally-friendly” entered the American mainstream. When he pioneered the modern development phase of the Lowcountry, the term “green” meant the color green. Sea Pines at the most southern tip of Hilton Head Island became one of the first developments to use covenants and deed restrictions to protect the environment. The homes were designed to blend in with the pine forests.

Fraser pondered many options about how to turn a piece of low-lying land on a barrier Island into a resort community. He was purposeful about opportunities, so he established a fundamental rule for Sea Pines that would eventually become the hallmark for most local developments that followed:

“Nature was here before us and we should blend into the environment.”

This simple mantra explains why we do not see high rise buildings on our shores, why exterior home colors are muted, and vegetation and spacing between buildings is generous compared to other towns.

The island’s early developers were environmentally conscious. As we grew in population, the connections to the environment became less obvious. The island won’t be truly ‘sustainable’ unless leadership, residents and businesses see the value. I strongly believe we must.
– DAVID AMES, DEVELOPER AND MEMBER OF HILTON HEAD ISLAND TOWN COUNCIL

Because the Lowcountry looks green, it is easy to be fooled into believing that we are on the forefront of what is ecologically possible in today’s world. If we really want to be stewards of the natural environment that attracted us to the area in the first place, we need to go beyond what we are doing now and get behind programs that might include some of the following:

Rising sea levels:
  • Commission a study on the impact of water levels that could rise up to 3 feet and invest to ensure that emergency traffic access is possible, which will require extra drainage, elevating roads and bridges.
  • Raise the minimum elevation level for new buildings to 16 feet.
  • Push building boundaries further back from flood zones.
Water conservation:
  • Retrofit public restrooms with waterless urinals and toilets in homes and villas to water-saving models.
  • Limit grassy areas, eliminate sprinkler systems and replace lawns with native shrubbery and plants.
  • Require all golf courses to follow Audubon standards (several have already made the switch).
Reducing carbon footprints:
  • Hold public and private buildings to a higher standard making heating and cooling more efficient.
  • Eliminate all coal-based electricity in the county.
  • Allow the installation of solar panels.
  • Facilitate traffic within plantations via electric vehicles (bikes and golf carts).
  • Finish bike paths (especially in Bluffton).
  • Favor electric car parking and charging stations in all public parking areas.
  • Dedicate a lane for electric vehicles and restrict the speed limits on most public roads to 35 mph.
  • Restrict commercial lighting in Bluffton and unincorporated areas.
Living spaces and image:
  • Eliminate billboards.
  • Create more green space and recreational areas (parks and nature trails) in Bluffton.
  • Bury electric cables and current power line easements for bike and walking lanes and low speed electric vehicles.
  • Vote to implement a mandatory commercial and private recycle program.

Do we have the political will—and are we prepared as residents— to make the extra effort to become ecologically sustainable? I look forward to hearing your comments.

Please join us in a local effort to fight climate change, go to OurEarthOurFuture.org.