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United States Congressman Mark Sanford stood at Mt. Pleasant Waterfront Park on Thursday, August 2, with Daniel Island’s southern tip visible behind him, telling a crowd of reporters and other interested attendees about his continued commitment to turn some of the State Ports Authority’s (SPA) land on Daniel Island into a park. He proposed the name – “Tri-County Waterfront Park.”

The park Sanford is lobbying for is similar to the 1300 acre park he proposed in 2006 when governor, which he reintroduced in late 2016 as a scaled back 400 plus acre green space on the lower Wando River side of Daniel Island. Conceptual plans for his latest pitch show a six-mile bike and walking trail, water access, multi-purpose open space, and a view of the Ravenel Bridge. To preserve the land and to set it aside for a park, Sanford suggested the creation of a nonprofit.

“I am here to ask for your help and involvement in an idea that can be transformative in further addressing quality of life issues here in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, and in particular in the Charleston and tri-county metro areas,” he said at the press conference.

In an interview after the media event, Sanford referred to the port land on Daniel Island as a “legacy area.” And he’s keen on preserving that land for use by citizens well into the future.

Armed with photographs of multiple parks around the world that are available today because of forward-thinking planning by leaders of the past, Sanford stressed the need for a deliberate plan. He specifically signaled out parks in Stockholm and Sau Paulo. In Stockholm, for example, he explained that the massive park in the center of the city was first preserved in the 1570s, with public access expanded in the 1820s.

Citing the huge influx of people to the Lowcountry and referencing the late Frances Edmunds, a longtime Historic Charleston Foundation director who spent her career as an advocate for historic preservation, Sanford said, “We have something that has attracted so many people here and kept so many others here, and that’s a unique quality of life. So, the question is: what can we do proactively to protect the unique quality of life that comes with the Charleston area?”

State House District 99 Representative Nancy Mace of Daniel Island said that she is in favor of the park because it can combat excessive development and urban sprawl.

“I’m going to support any ideas and proposals where we can conserve some of our land,” said Mace, who stood alongside Sanford at last week’s press conference. “Charleston has been so overdeveloped over the last few decades that we’ve not done a good job at that, and this presents an opportunity to look forward 75 to 100 plus years. We can plan to have more parks and green spaces in a town that is already being overdeveloped.”

“I think it provides a lot of value to residents that live on Daniel Island,” Mace added. “I think it is an opportunity for us to identify the island over the long term. What are we going to eventually be?”

Sanford has regularly compared the land to New York’s Central Park ever since he first discussed it in 2006. He continued the parallel at the press conference. “When I lived in New York, I could not have survived there were it not for Central Park, and that’s over 800 acres in the middle of town,” Sanford said. As he put it, the most valuable real estate surrounds the park. “It’s something that enhances value.”

Sanford made a push to dispel concerns around a project of this size, specifically environmental and monetary worries. He also tied it into the usual concerns of overcrowding.

“What about if your family has been here for 100 or 200 years? Do you get crowded out? Or what if you’re on more humble means? Do you get crowded out,” he hypothesized. “This is about equal access to the water for a lot of different folks. It’s about public space.”

Both Sanford and Mace were quick to caution citizens that the park will not be available soon. It is a long term project that likely will not be seen for decades because of its continued use as a dredge spoil area by the SPA.

Acknowledging the SPA’s dredge disposal needs in a post press conference interview, as well as road access concerns, Sanford was undeterred.

“In the long run, are we going to stick a bunch more buildings on it or are we going to make it open space? I think we should make it open space.”

Daniel Island Company President Matt Sloan, who was previously skeptical of the park when Sanford resurrected the idea in early 2017 due to road access concerns, said last week that he is in favor of the project, given enough time.

“It would be wonderful for all this waterfront property to serve a recreational purpose once it has served its useful purpose for the SPA,” he said.

At the most recent press conference, the congressman said that the quickest way to mitigate traffic issues is through the water.

“You could leave a lot of different places, travel by ferry, with no vehicular impact to Daniel Island, itself,” he said. “If you look at Staten Island, 22 million people a year travel on the Staten Island ferry alone. If you look at Venice, more than 20 million people a year travel by ferry. If you look at Bangkok, more than 20 million people a year travel by ferry.”

Daniel Island Property Owners’ Association Vice President of Community Services Jane Baker said that water taxis are not a singular solution. “While access to this park could be by water and by land, appropriate infrastructure to accommodate vehicular traffic would still be an important part of future planning from our perspective,” she stated.

The SPA did not respond to requests for a comment on the park or their dredging efforts in the area. In early 2017, the SPA signaled opposition to the plan. At the time a SPA spokesman said, “The port’s dredge disposal requirements are constant and long-term with anticipated use into the next 50 to 100 years and beyond…Under our current plans and conditions for virtually all of our acreage, the park would not be feasible.”

For all the discussions about the various areas the park would impact, Sanford said that future generations have the most to gain, as it would leave them with an area of nature in a metropolis. “Let’s leave them a land legacy,” he said.

(Credit: Daniel Island News)