Environmental groups want a public hearing on bridge over Pennys Creek

The South Carolina Environmental Law Project is urging people to request a public hearing for a potential bridge to be built over Pennys Creek.
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 3:06 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 7, 2023 at 6:32 PM EST
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JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Environmental Law Project is urging people to request a public hearing for a potential bridge to be built over Pennys Creek.

Pennys Creek separates a portion of land from Johns Island between the creek and the Stono River. The two-lane bridge would be 33-feet-wide by 570-feet-long.

Conservationists say that kind of construction work would affect the water quality and health of the salt marsh ecosystem. Betsy LaForce is with the Coastal Conservation League.

“We’re thinking about- runoff from cars and stormwater runoff that would go right into the marsh, but also just some of the shading and then the impacts from the piling,” she says.

The applicant is Mike Blanchard of Charles Blanchard Construction Corporation. The proposed name for the bridge is the Blanchard Family Bridge. The application is to build at Fenwick Plantation Road and St. Paul’s Parish Lane. That intersection sits inside a quiet Johns Island neighborhood. According to DHEC’s public notice, the purpose is to provide car access to private property where “access to public roadways is otherwise infeasible.”

South Carolina Environmental Law Project is concerned that the bridge will impact the estuarine ecosystem including some marsh habitat. The organization is also submitting a letter on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League. While the private bridge would access private property, the project argues that the negative impacts to the public waterway and ecosystem held entrust by the state are not worth it.

LaForce says there are a lot of questions about this bridge.

“There are kind of more questions than answers that have been provided in the application in the letter of intent as to why the applicant really needs this bridge to this island that’s already been under the same ownership for quite a long time and access via a separate bridge hasn’t been needed to date,” LaForce says. “So that’s part of the reason why this public hearing will be so important…to ask them to ask the applicant to provide a little bit more background on why this access is needed to the tip of this marsh island.”

The letter argues that there already is access to the land via Rushland Road. “The applicant does not appear to have detailed why this is an infeasible route for access” and that “their proposed access is not a necessity,” according to the letter. The applicant says he has been denied access through that avenue.

In a statement, the applicant explains his family has owned the land since the 40′s and sold off most of it reserving six remaining acres for their grandchildren to use. He says there used to be more bridges and causeways that fell into disrepair and have not been replaced. He says they have secured a permit in the past, but let it expire before being able to build.

Part of the statement reads:

“This property is landlocked and the only available access is by a bridge. We tried for 50 years to get access through the neighboring land between our property and Rushland Landing Road to no avail.  We have met all of the regulations and were granted a bridge permit 3 times. If we can’t build a bridge, we cannot access our land.”

LaForce says they are also worried about development pressure.

“Some of the infrastructure that’s being proposed for such a sensitive ecosystem…so on our Sea Islands, we want to be really cognizant of these piecemeal kind of applications that are being considered whether it’s for new roadways, new bridges, and sort of the cumulative impacts that each of those individual budgets has on the bigger picture,” LaForce.

South Carolina Environmental Law Project urges people to submit a request for a public hearing to learn more about the reason for the bridge and potential impact to the environment. Neighbors say they are confident they will meet the 20-request requirement for a public hearing.

Public comments end on March 8th. For more information, click here.