Jasper County residents are upset over a proposed development near the town of Hardeeville that would involve a new sand mining operation. However, the developer of the project calls the controversy a misunderstanding and says he hopes to smooth things over at a public hearing Thursday night. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Hardeeville Town Hall.
John Reed, the CEO of Reed Development, said his group Reed-HTI, LLC wants to build a large planned community on a tract of land located off U.S. Highway 17 about nine miles away from Savannah, Georgia. Five years ago, Reed planned to build the community around a new, manmade lake. However, the housing market crash in late 2008 scuttled those plans.
As the group waits for the market to turn around, Reed said they hope to start digging the lake and selling the sand as a way to make money. He said the company filled out a mining permit with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and, as required by law, notified nearby homeowners by mail.
“When we sent out the letters to start digging the lake, it was as a mining permit instead of a community development permit,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “I’m sure that scared the heck out of people.”
It did. DHEC received numerous comments from neighbors, especially those along Oak Wood Drive, which borders the property. They overwhelmingly opposed the plan, worrying that the mine would leave behind deep canyons if the lake was never filled. “We are very disturbed about this mining,” wrote residents J. Elbert and Gwendolyn Walsh. “We DO NOT want this to happen! It will be no more than a mosquito haven. It will destroy (our) property value. (R)ight down the street someone mined the sand there, and now it is just a big hole.”
Reed said he made a mistake by not sending a follow-up letters to residents, informing them that he hoped to develop the 110-acre tract of land once the mining was finished. “In this economy, this is the best way to do it,” he said, “We’re trying to keep our doors open. You want to do everything you can to reduce prices. Well, if I can sell the sand and get my lake dug… you’d be foolish and a bad manager not to take advantage.”
There are 13 other mines currently in Jasper County, according to DHEC.
The tract is located roughly a mile away from the Kingfisher Pond Recreation Area, itself part of Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge officials said they initially had concerns about how additional water in the proposed lake would impact the pond. There are no wetlands on the property now, according to the permit that Reed-HTI completed.
However, project manager Jane Greiss said some of Reed’s engineers met with her staff and that she was satisfied with their answers. “I have a much higher comfort level with them at this point than I did a month ago,” she told South Carolina Radio Network. She said she will be at Thursday’s meeting to hear other concerns from residents.
Reed also plans to be at the Hardeeville meeting and said he hopes to ease those concerns. But he likely faces an uphill battle from the Oak Wood residents nervous about their groundwater and their property values.
““We will fight against this until the end,” the Walshes wrote in their letter. They could not be reached Wednesday.