The Town of Awendaw has been in the local paper recently over the issue of annexation. Awendaw is a small town, east of Mt. Pleasant, which was incorporated in 1992. Because the town has no sewer system, septic tanks remain the predominant method of waste water treatment. A majority of the residents still receive their water from wells. Environmental tests conducted over the past several years have showed that faulty septic tanks pose a potential hazard for contaminating the water table.
Because of these issues, the town has invested time in bringing a fresh water system to the town, and it has alternatively explored waste water treatment options. While many longtime residents of Awendaw welcome the real, future possibility of improved water and waste treatment options, others from within and outside of the town have a much different sentiment, due to their belief that water and sewer will only bring more development.
Awendaw is a natural gem, bordered on one side by the Francis Marion National Forest and on the other side by the Romain Retreat and Bulls Bay. Many in the area see Awendaw’s pristine nature as something that should be preserved at all costs. The town’s Comprehensive Plan echoes a similar commitment to maintaining the rural character of the town. These idyllic qualities have led many relative newcomers to relocate to the town, seeking a refuge from the urban sprawl of Mt. Pleasant and Charleston. Many of these new residents, along with conservationists from outside of the town, have frequently voiced disagreement over several decisions the town has recently made which encourage certain types of development.
The difference of opinion between conservationists and the majority of council became most pronounced during a recent vote to approve a development agreement for a new subdivision within the town. Because much of the voiced opposition to the agreement came from residents living outside of Awendaw, the debate could accurately be described as one between long-term natives of the town versus newcomers and their pro-conservationists from outside of the town.
The question facing the town is whether the future of a town will be decided by long-time residents in it or outside residents now seeking to come into it. Many residents from an affluent, nearby subdivision have expressed a sudden interest to annex into the town. Residents from this same subdivision refused to be annexed when the town was first incorporated, but apparently have recognized an inability to alter town policy from the outside looking in. While state law does not require a municipality to accept an annexation request by any adjacent landowner, those applicants whose recent annexation requests have been denied are crying foul.
A well-defined annexation policy is in the works which should help to resolve at least some of the issues in the annexation debate. What has not helped the debate is the way in which recent articles and editorials in The Post and Courier have reported this as a racial dispute.
While a majority of long-time Awendaw residents are black, and virtually all of the subdivision whose residents are seeking annexation into the town are white, there are people of both races on either side of the issue. The injection of race into this dispute, and claims of “reverse racism,” only poisons the well, and turns a legitimate debate over land-planning and self-determination into something worse.
My hope is that the slanted reporting on this issue will not unfairly alter the perceptions of those outside of Awendaw, because the same planning and development issues are emerging all over the tri-county area. To highlight the racial elements present at the exclusion of the true issues does the citizens of Awendaw a great disservice.
As someone who has worked for the town the past several years, I care very much about its progress and how it is portrayed in the local media. I believe fair and unbiased reporting, along with editorials that address facts, not perceptions, will help Awendaw and other similarly situated towns appropriately resolve their land-planning issues.
Dwayne Green is currently the chief counsel for the Town of Awendaw.