April 2008

Politics and Water: Part One

Author: Larry Hughes

Don’t think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm. —Malayan Proverb

You wake up in the morning, brush your teeth, shower, put on the coffee pot, maybe have time to water the flower beds or fill up the kids’ inflatable splash pool.

You come home from work and throw on a bathing suit. Maybe you head to the sandbar out in the May River in your pleasure boat or on a jet ski. Or you hop in your hot tub. Or you and your son wash the family SUV, maybe even the family pooch. What do all of these activities have in common? Water.

Whether you gulp it during a workout, dump a bag of ice cubes over a six pack, keep your lawn green with it, pull a spot tail bass out of it, or throw a tea bag in it, there’s just no getting away from it. W.H. Auden said, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

Where you may see an endless resource taken for granted, scientists, engineers, and politicians see endangered shellfish beds, leaking septic tanks, illegal discharges, compromised natural vegetation buffers, enforcement issues, overlapping jurisdictions, and competing federal, state, county, and local political interests.

Not that you should ponder all this while brushing your teeth in the morning, but when you drive over a bridge on the way to work and look for dolphins, admire a sunrise or sunset on Mackay’s Creek, watch a fisherman land a big one, or heave a sigh as a luxurious yacht motors down the Intracoastal Waterway, you consider it all part of living in paradise. Meanwhile, those hordes of scientists, engineers, and politicians are dealing with the price of our fouling it up.

You’re spacing out over a blue heron. They’re struggling with baseline metric studies, Best Management Practices and Special Area Management Programs (called BMPs and SAMPs in their lingo), storm water runoff issues, water plants, wastewater management, and Bi-State Maritime Commissions. You head out on a charter fishing boat. They are pondering the tradeoffs of boating and water recreation management. You enjoy a delicious shrimp cocktail (of Wild South Carolina Shrimp, please). They are trying to stay ahead of poachers.

“So, who cares?” you ask. You have to worry about real-life issues like car payments, saving for the little one’s college fund, or taking care of the rent. Just making sure when you get to the end of the month, you’ve got more money than month left can be tough. All this talk about water is no biggie, right? WRONG. It really is a big deal. Water and politics seep into every facet of our lives. We’re going to explore how over the next few months.

Friends of the Rivers: A Tribute to Frederick Marscher II
The time is 1995. William Frederick Marscher II wakes up in the morning, opens up the Island Packet, and reads: 500 Acres of Shellfish Beds Closed. A lot of other people woke up that same morning and read that story. Then they turned to the comics, the obituaries, or the sports pages. But Bill Marscher couldn’t do that. Raised in Beaufort County to love the tidal waters, Bill and his pals were always crabbing, shrimping, swimming, fishing, or oystering as kids. He moved to New England as a young adult and took to lobstering and sailing. Water was in his DNA.

Amongst other jobs, including a stint as test engineer for GE and being part of the MIT team that developed the Apollo command and lunar landing modules, Marscher ended up back in Beaufort County in 1969, working for The Sea Pines Company as vice president of leisure services.

While there, he helped direct a successful community battle to stop proposed construction of a BASF chemical plant at Victoria Bluff. It was the first true grassroots environmental effort in South Carolina. Their work even became the basis of several academic studies. This early success and imprinting prepared him for the headline on that fateful day.

Never one to just sip his morning coffee and turn to the sports pages with a headline like that staring at him, Marscher called the good folks at South Carolina Coastal Conservation League. Soon he was teamed up with a tall, lanky Quaker by the name of Sam Passmore, who shared his passion for getting things done. Marscher’s energy and organizing skills and Passmore’s political instincts led to formation of a steering committee of concerned citizens, which morphed over time into the Clean Water Task Force.

The group issued a 1995 landmark report called “A Blueprint for Clean Water: Strategies to Protect and Restore Beaufort County’s Waterways.” And that, in turn, led to the formation of a wonderful group called Friends of the Rivers. At last our waterways had citizen advocates.

Marscher served on the group’s advisory board for years. He recently passed away at age 78, but as Jacob Preston, Bluffton potter, sage, and well-versed environmental activist said, “Bill was the patriarch of the environmental community. He was able to apply his engineering skill set and strong sense of ethics to solving critical water quality problems. His insistence about protecting our Lowcountry way of life became a rallying cry for others to follow.”

This judgment was echoed by David Harter, current president of the Friends of the Rivers, ardent fisherman, and head of the Hilton Head Sportfishing Club. “Bill’s legacy of Lowcountry natural resources and lifestyle preservation will continue to inspire many of us to become stewards of what is a unique place in North America.”

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