From the sandy coastal beaches to the rolling western mountains, South Carolina is a state with a huge variety of pristine natural beauty. Government officials at all levels have always made it a priority to protect and preserve South Carolina’s natural resources and the Beaufort County Council’s recent passing of the Greenspace Sales Tax Referendum is the newest proof of that priority.
The Greenspace Sales Tax Referendum establishes a one percent, 4-year, $300 million Greenspace Sales Tax which will be used to purchase land and conservation easements in Beaufort County. The need behind this referendum, according to the council, is that rapid economic growth and development have imperiled the natural resources of Beaufort County. South Carolina is the tenth-fastest-growing state in the nation and, while Beaufort County has certainly seen positive effects of that growth, there is real concern that the pace of development will overwhelm the County’s natural spaces and destroy critical portions of the environment. The infrastructure needed to sustain the current rapid development puts stressors on natural wetlands, marshes, and headwaters which hamper the functioning of these ecosystems and eliminate natural storm protection and flood abatement. In short, as much as the County benefits from new economic opportunities, there is a limit of what the area’s natural resources can support.
The concept of government entities purchasing greenspace for environmental conservation is nothing new to the Beaufort area. The Beaufort County Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program has levied taxpayer dollars since 1999 for environmental projects. Federal dollars are also spent for conservation in the County, most notably the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program. In 2020, South Carolina received over $80 million to complete REPI projects including land conservation around MCAS Beaufort and MCRD Parris Island. These actions preserved marshlands and wetlands, but they also prevented non-compatible development adjacent to the installations which can impact flying and training operations. South Carolina also participates in the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability (SERPPAS), a regional partnership between state and federal agencies which develops solutions to common problems in sustainability such as land conservation.
The Greenspace Sales Tax Referendum was advanced through the Beaufort County Council with a vote of 8-2. It will undergo a third reading at the Council level in August. If successfully passed at that point, the bill will be presented to voters for approval on the November 2022 ballot.