Developer Begins Wetland Restoration Along I-77

Wed August 03, 2005 - Southeast Edition

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) A South Carolina company has begun working to undo environmental harm its developers caused two years ago while preparing to build on a 429-acre site along Interstate 77.

Crossings Development LLC has been trying to repair the damage caused when developers dug up wetlands and clear-cut a forest in 2003. In April, the company was ordered to pay a $1.1 million fine after company officials pleaded guilty to breaking the Clean Water Act.

As part of the plea agreement, Crossings Development and developer Matthew Congdon agreed to restore the damaged site at a cost estimated at about $300,000.

On July 21, assistant U.S. Attorneys Emery Clark and Winston Holliday, who prosecuted the federal case, checked on the company’s progress. The agreement requires restoration consultants to report annually to prosecutors the success of their work.

The wetlands damage was described by federal officials as some of the most “egregious” seen in South Carolina.

Under the repair plan, Crossings and Congdon hired contractors to replant about 8,000 trees on part of the property and regrade the site to replenish wetlands. Some of the work will allow water to pool in former wetlands and replenish lowland forest habitat for birds, deer, raccoons, frogs and fish. In addition to wildlife benefits, wetlands are important because they also help control flooding and cleanse polluted storm water.

Also, a creek, which had been destroyed when developers unearthed drainage pipes, has been re-created and is flowing.

“This is certainly a good start,” Clark said. “As to whether this works [long-term], we don’t know.”

Lawyers for Crossings and Congdon said they were sorry about environmental damage to the landscape but expressed confidence the restoration plan would work.

Charleston lawyer Jack Smith said it is uncertain whether non-wetland areas of the 429 acres one day will be developed. About 80 acres of wetlands are on the property.

The areas being restored are to be preserved, federal prosecutor Clark said.