WestRock Land and Development has established the template for future business-driven conservation efforts throughout South Carolina.
In final plans for a 72,000-acre rural tract in East Edisto, the Summerville-based paper and packaging company has set aside 53,000 acres to be protected by the newly formed East Edisto Conservancy (EEC).
“The establishment of the conservancy is a direct response to the community’s desire for the area to remain rural countryside,” Kenneth T. Seeger, president of Community Development Land Management for WestRock, told Palmetto Business Daily.
The EEC is a five-member board; two members are from landowner groups and the other three are community members. Funded with $1.6 million from WestRock for ongoing conservation and land protection, the EEC members will oversee and enforce the density restrictions.
Specifically, the property will be permanently restricted to low rural densities in perpetuity, according to Seeger, or one house built per 25 acres and one home allowed on 200 acres if located nearer the Edisto River.
The entire 19-mile tract, northwest of downtown Charleston between the Edisto and Ashley rivers, also includes WestRock’s 15,000-acre mixed-use development near Summerville and a similarly planned 3,500-acre project near Ravenel. Development plans also include new schools, as well as preserving the low country’s character.
“With East Edisto, we had the opportunity to plan on a large regional scale, thanks in part to the size of the land holding," Seeger said. "While other businesses may not have that opportunity, there is tremendous value in the process to engage a variety of stakeholders and to collaborate and achieve a favorable end goal,” Seeger said.
Both Dorchester and Charleston counties have approved the development plan, which has taken almost a decade to come to fruition.
“Through our years of community outreach, we heard time and again, the desire for sustainable communities, educational opportunities, and the need to protect the farms and forests of the low country,” Seeger said.
Thus, by committing to keep 75 percent of East Edisto rural and green space, he said WestRock is doing so “in a way that ensures the community’s vision lives on forever.”
Too often, he said, conservation and business interests are seen as having divergent views on the right way to grow a local economy.
“In fact, we are working toward the same end goal – a robust economy that honors and protects the environment,” said Seeger, who is also on the board of the Trident CEO Council, a group of private-sector business leaders committed to regional progress, as well as advocating for land and water.
The Trident CEO Council website lists protecting "Our Land and Water" as one of the organization's top regional priorities.
“Our ability to succeed depends heavily on the quality of life in the low country, which is firmly rooted in its landscape, from tidal marshes to upland pines,” Seeger said.