Editorial: Gifting the city with Goat Island

  • Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Gazing out the windows of businesses along Front Street, owners and employees get to enjoy watching the blue-gray and brown waters of the Sampit River. Their backdrop is formed by the greens and browns of the pines, oaks, cedars and cypress of Goat Island.
That view has stood for many decades and is likely to remain that way if the City of Georgetown and Jerry Blackmon of Charlotte come to an agreement on plans for some 20 acres of his land in the harbor at Georgetown.
This city is the third-oldest in South Carolina, and is home to the Palmetto State’s oldest newspaper — the Georgetown Times.
Throughout the decades and centuries, commerce has come and gone and come back again. What today is Goat Island was a peninsula at the entrance to the city. In 1937 with the coming of International Paper, a cut through the peninsula was proposed. The idea was approved in 1948 and completed in 1951.
Goat Island was formed with that Sampit River cut. Its banks still have remnants of some of the old docks and wharves that lined the shore when Gardner and Lacey and several other lumber companies operated there in the early part of the 20th Century.
When the Great Depression struck and fire destroyed major portions of the adjacent Atlantic Coast Lumber company mills, the other businesses also fell into disuse.
As the years have passed, first International Paper and then Georgetown Steel came and built on the banks of the Sampit River. Goat Island gradually became what you can see today as you stroll along Harborwalk.
Blackmon, who lives in Charlotte, is considering a donation of the bulk of Goat Island to the City of Georgetown. The dollar value of the 20 acres he may donate is estimated to be about $900,000.
Blackmon wants assurances from City Council that there would not be any commercial development on the island.
The city has hired SGA Architecture of Pawleys Island to develop a plan for a park and nature observation area.
The park idea is also related to the establishment of “mooring fields” in the back channel of the Sampit River. That area provides access to the Front Street of the city, and by donating the land Blackmon is also transferring riparian rights. That’s the use of a waterway by someone who owns the adjacent land.
Ownership of the land gives the city the right to establish the mooring fields and mooring buoys, so long as they don’t interfere with the 100-foot-wide channel.
This potential donation of 20 acres — most of the 30-acre Goat Island — is a handsome gift to the future while preserving parts of the past and present.
And the mooring buoys will also serve to attract more transient or day boat traffic to Georgetown’s waterfront.
The City should ensure that whatever plan it comes up with is one that will be sensitive to the natural environment, appreciative of the asset Blackmon would bestow on the people, and one that will retain and enhance the natural beauty of the area.
Not that many years ago, Julia Kaminski donated her home to the City. This home is now the Kaminski House Museum. Some on City Council have sought ways to reduce or eliminate the costs of upkeep and operations of the house from the city budget.
We hope that members of Georgetown City Council will find a way to clearly commit to a long-term and wise stewardship of Blackmon’s gift of the land and of the riparian rights.
In its own way, the gift of $900,000 worth of land in such a location could be priceless.
We hope members of City Council will see that value which simply cannot be calculated in dollars.

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