I was trying to think of what to say upon viewing the latest manifestations of the awesome destructive power wielded by those business and governmental entities who can lay claim to a “right-of-way.” Folks in these parts put a lot of stock in something called “quality-of-life,” a sort of “happy planet index,” which means many things to many people. It is, more often than not, one of the more controversial livability concepts.
However, there is one thing just about everybody can agree on: the protection of the foreground and background of our landscapes. Such vistas define our Lowcountry, whether they be downtown along our streets and sidewalks; at-risk tree buffer vistas bordering our Lowcountry roadways, or occasional glimpses of expanses of coastal marshlands. All of these have been under sharp attack as the utility companies that assert their dominion over all lands beneath their wires, chainsawing trees in our city and elsewhere into cruelly grotesque deformities, which impart to the more the appearance of aerial roots than natural trees.
Various city, county and state governments have professed they are powerless to control such intrusive abuse of our landscape and have historically set a low bar to what they would permit and how much destruction was permissible. Sometimes the government itself lends a hand in the slash and burn grotesqueries: Witness the miles and miles of dead, brown, poisoned trees and shrubs along Highway 17 last year and the recent horrific desecration of a portion of our iconic “scenic corridor,” along Highway 61 or the clear-cut of the median and extended I-26 right-of-way near Summerville so drivers could have an unobstructed view of the magnificent flatness of a tri-county industrial area.
Also displaced are homes (the I-26 – I-526 interchange) and whole neighborhoods where their landscapes and cultures are upended as exhibited by extensive clearances demanded by the project or the massive power poles running through Riverland Terrace, some in homeowners’ front yards, which lend the neighborhood a distinct industrial ambiance.
Perhaps the most egregious of these displays of haughty dismissal of scenic values or cultural sensitivity were plans to run a high-tension line across the serene Santee Delta and the tone-deaf threat to saw down the emblematic lines of palmetto trees along Palm Boulevard on the Isle of Palms. Yes, the very tree that effectively held up the 16 feet of sand that neutralized the impact of cannonballs fired from the British fleet as they attempted to capture Charleston during the War of American Independence; this is the very one emblazoned on our state flag.
It is hard to fathom such continued official indifference and lack of any kind of serious governmental commitment to protect the long-existing scenic values that are components of the Lowcountry quality of life: values enjoyed across a wide social spectrum of the population. When “official” interventions come into play, contraveners receive a chump-change fine and, sometimes, a directive to plant a few bushes in mitigation.
The fact that this type of unrestricted brutalization continues to exist shows that there has been an insufficient amount of organized public outrage. There are organizations set up to fight these encroachments, but they need demonstrations of public support to sway politicians that their electorate is not pleased.
Contact the members of the board of directors of the power companies, the S.C. Highway Commission, your city and county council members, city mayors, members of your delegation and enlist the aid of activist groups such as The Coastal Conservation League and The Southern Environmental Law Center; support the Lowcountry Land Trust to continue its educational role.
One possible solution would be for the governmental entities to require the use of a tree expert to approve and oversee the cutting or removal. If our desultory tongue-clucking could be channeled into voices of genuine outrage to protest the current political attitudes that permit and enable such policies, we might see some desirable changes in the attitudes of officialdom.
Ben McC. Moïse is a retired game warden and the author or editor of three books on hunting and the outdoors; he is a resident of Charleston and frequent contributor to the Charleston Mercury.