Conservationists and Water & Land Solutions Celebrate

South Carolina conservationists and other interested parties joined this week in a celebration of a wetland and stream mitigation project that will protect of almost 5,000 acres of wetlands and upland buffers along the Congaree River just 15 minutes from downtown Columbia.  The project is providing part of the mitigation for impacts to Waters of the United States resulting from the permitting of the Scout Motors electric vehicle manufacturing plant near Blythewood, SC.

Project principles included the South Carolina Department of Commerce, Richland County, Open Space Institute, and Water & Land Solutions.  The project is backed by the Department of Commerce with bridge funding coming from Open Space Institute.  Restoration and enhancement of wetlands and streams is being performed by an expert and experienced team at Water & Land Solutions.  Other project partners include Congaree Land Trust which holds the Conservation Easement on the Congaree Mitigation Site.  The South Carolina Forestry Commission will be the eventual long-term steward and make the property available for public use upon transfer to that agency.

The Mitigation Site, also known as Millaree, is a rural property along the Congaree River south of Columbia.  It has a long history of agriculture going back more than 200 years.  Indigo, rice, and cotton were staple crops for antebellum landowners.  Its more recent use has been for timber management and superb outdoor recreation. The site has several designations on the National Historic Register. The Millaree Hunt Club is the historic home base for South Carolina Conservation Giant the late Marion Burnside, who meticulously managed the property for decades.

“This new state forest is the biggest thing to happen on the COWASEE Basin since Congaree National Park,” states Patrick Moore, Senior Project Manager for the Open Space Institute. “We are honored  to partner with Scout, the Department of Commerce and Water & Land Solutions to protect  this land and open it to the public, forever.”

The mitigation site is crisscrossed by floodplain channels and ox-bow lakes that temporarily hold and convey water downstream into the Congaree River most of the time, but also move floodwaters laterally across the floodplain when the Congaree River is in flood stage.

“The restoration, enhancement and conservation of the Millaree site is a momentous event in the ongoing conservation efforts within the 315,000-acre COWASEE Basin Focus Area and will help meet the growing demand for outdoor recreation in South Carolina,” said Stuart White, Executive Director of Congaree Land Trust. “We are grateful to have participated in this project and to be entrusted with the permanent protection of this outstanding property.”

The mitigation plan strictly followed guidance from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and includes plugging ditches that were installed for agriculture and silviculture to restore and enhance local hydrology.  The non-native pine will be removed and replanted with native hardwoods to include cherrybark oak and bald cypress among other species.  Some large road culverted road crossings will be removed entirely to restore channel connectivity.  The restoration and enhancement activities will be monitored for years to ensure the long-term success of the project.

“We’re excited about the prospect of stewarding the Millaree property as part of the Commission’s state forest system. The property will be managed for multiple uses, including compatible public recreation, like South Carolina’s five other state forests,” said South Carolina State Forester Scott Phillips. “The timing and purpose of this project also dovetails nicely with Governor McMaster’s redoubled commitment to conserving as many of South Carolina’s wild and natural places as possible.”

“We could not be prouder to develop and implement the site mitigation plan and hope this is the beginning of a long and productive relationship of working with the South Carolina Forestry Commission,” said Water & Land Solutions’ president, Tommy Cousins. “Thank you, Scott Phillips for your leadership and commitment.”

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