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Sullivans Island fights for land governor wanted auctioned

JIM DAVENPORT with Associated Press published an article regarding the future of some land in Sullivan’s Island. The Governor wants an aucton while others don’t think this is appropriate. Please see the full article below…

“SULLIVANS ISLAND, S.C. – Tides, time and hurricanes haven’t been kind to the mostly neglected building built at the end of an old Army quartermaster dock over Cove Creek in this island town.

The neglect shows in the weathered paint on the outside, trash on the inside and crumbling timbers beneath it.

This dock and the land next to it once helped stock the U.S. Army’s Fort Moultrie from 1915 through the end of World War II. It’s now the center of a turf fight between the state and the Town of Sullivans Island expected to play out Tuesday at a Budget and Control Board meeting in Columbia.

Deborah Lofton and her husband, Sandy, have lived next to the deteriorating dock for 26 years. They’re worried the next big hurricane will send its timbers crashing into their own dock.

While the town needs the land, Gov. Mark Sanford, who lives on Sullivans Island, has been pushing a plan to sell the dock and adjoining land with a warehouse to the highest bidder for at least $2.8 million.

“I certainly hope that the governor’s office would not expect the town to do that,” Deborah Lofton said.

“There are plenty of precedents where a state agency or the state government has had property given to them by the federal government,” she said.

That happened with this land in 1949 when the United States gave it to South Carolina.

This huge dock saw it’s busiest days long ago. What now is a silt-choked Cove Creek once was an open harbor. Ships would tie up here and disgorge cargo needed for the nearby fort.

Over the years, the state’s Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Health and Environmental Control have used the property for wildlife and shellfish operations.

Sullivans Island, which has its town hall and police offices next door, made it known for years it wanted the property if it ever became available, Town Administrator Andy Benke said. It had leased storage space at the warehouse.

Last summer, DHEC told the town not to make any warehouse improvements because it planned to “more fully utilize” it, according to a letter from Benke to DHEC in August.

In September, as Sanford held budget hearings, the governor’s office had a phone call from a citizen suggesting selling the land. “I don’t know what their connection was with the property,” Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said.
Sawyer would not say who called because the person requested anonymity.

In November, Sanford trumpeted the idea of selling the place, saying it would bring $1 million to the state. That same month, Benke wrote the state Budget and Control Board telling the board’s property manager that it wanted the land.

In a January letter, Sullivans Island Mayor Carl Smith told Sanford the town needed the inside storage space for equipment. Beyond that, Smith wrote, the properties were on the town’s list of historic places and couldn’t be modified without town approval.

“It would be a great service to the island, the island you call home, if you could find a way to turn this property over to the Town of Sullivans Island at little or no cost to the residents,” Smith wrote to the governor.

In March, with little discussion, the Budget and Control agreed to auction the land. The board says the dock parcel and the adjoining parcel with the warehouse are worth $2.8 million and shouldn’t sell for less.

The numbers “seem awfully high,” said Rep. Ben Hagood, R-Sullivans Island.
While the state should get a fair price, it’s important to balance the town’s interest with that of the state, he said. A high sales price is a windfall for the state, he said.

The historical property status means a new owner would have to renovate what’s there instead of starting from scratch, said Sen. Chip Campsen, a Republican from neighboring Isle of Palms and a hunting buddy of the governor. “It’s not like buying a vacant lot on Sullivans Island,” he said.

On Tuesday, the board Sanford chairs will decide whether to reconsider its auction decision.

Sanford has repeatedly advocated for live auctions instead of closed bids.
Traditional bids are “not as open of a process” as auctions, Sawyer said.

Sawyer does not expect the land’s history as a one-time gift from the federal government will sway Sanford’s opinion.

The governor, he said, “has a long record of opposing giving property to counties and municipalities versus selling it for fair market value.”

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