Oct. 11, 2009
By Steve Jones
Group laments downstream logging
LAKE WACCAMAW, N.C. — Waccamaw Riverkeeper Christine Ellis was a little late arriving at a party Saturday to celebrate the purchase of the 440-acre Cove Swamp that borders the southern end of Lake Waccamaw.
Ellis had been in a boat a few miles downriver with Crusoe Island resident Jeff Etheridge taking photos of a river muddied by logging a tract the conservationists couldn’t save.
The N.C. Nature Conservancy came up with $700,000 for Cove Swamp and wanted to buy the larger, 6,600-acre tract downriver now being logged that was owned by the same Virginia company.
But the company wanted more than twice the $14 million appraised value of the land, said Hervey McIver, protection specialist with the N.C. Conservancy.
The company, Riverstone Properties, sold the logging rights for the approximately 660 acres now being cut to Eastern Forest Products Co. of Whiteville, N.C., for $270,000. Terry Register, owner of Eastern Forest, didn’t return a call seeking comment.
The Cove Swamp property will be transferred to the state of N.C. and become part of Lake Waccamaw State Park when the state sends the Conservancy a promised check for $650,000, McIver said.
A total of $68,000 for the Cove Swamp purchase was raised from Lake Waccamaw-area residents and donors in five other states, including the Winyah Bay Foundation, said Deborah Kelso, education coordinator for the Friends of Lake Waccamaw State Park.
Kelso said Cove Swamp is important not only to protect habitat for endemic fish, snails and plants, but it also holds water flowing from adjoining higher land and keeps it from moving directly into the lake and possibly flooding some lakeside homes.
Don Reuter, among the top administrators at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, was at the party, and Ellis buttonholed him to urge stepped-up state monitoring of the river along the logging site.
She said her nearest monitoring station is at the bridge where the river flows under S.C. 9, with the next samples scheduled to be taken Wednesday.
Besides the degradation of habitat along the river in South Carolina, Ellis said that increased turbidity of the water could mean higher water treatment charges for those in South Carolina who depend on the river for drinking and other uses.
Residents of Crusoe Island, near the river in Columbus County, fear even greater problems near their homes.
Etheridge said the land undulates along that part of the river, with the low parts bare of vegetation, allowing runoff to flow directly into the Waccamaw. No amount of buffer between the clearcutting and the river will stop that, he said, as a buffer would act more like a picket fence across the high points of the land than a solid dam against silt.
Additionally, he and other Crusoe Island residents said they worry that the logging will ultimately result in further filling of the river bed. Etheridge and Gary Clewis, another Crusoe resident, said the river near their homes has lost several feet in depth from silting during their lifetimes.
Still further, said Beatrice Long, a Crusoe Island resident who can see the river from her home, chemicals and oil that wash from logging machinery will kill fish in the river and destroy cypress stands near it.
“When they leave,” Long said of the loggers, “they leave all kinds of debris. It’s not a pretty sight.”