By Paul Gable
A state court recently voided an annexation by the Town of Awendaw because the town didn’t bother to follow state law in the annexation process.
Without getting too technical, the town used a 10 foot wide strip of land through the Francis Marion National Forest to connect the town to a pocket of private land within the national forest boundaries.
Awendaw has used this process several times since 1994 to annex pockets of private land located within the overall confines of the national forest property. The strips of national forest land were the only way Awendaw could bring town property adjacent to the private land areas it annexed.
The 10 foot wide strip of national forest land was first used by Awendaw in 1994. The basis for the annexation of national forest land was a 1994 letter from the U.S. Forest Service that said the service had no objection to the town annexing a 10 foot wide strip as long as it didn’t hinder the service’s ability to manage the national forest.
Awendaw used this letter as an annexation petition from the U.S. Forest Service to connect it to a track of private land north of the town.
The process of annexing 10 foot wide strips of national forest land was used three more times by Awendaw to further expand its borders, using the 1994 letter as justification.
In 2009, the annexation of what is called the Nebo tract, again using a 10 foot wide strip of national forest land was challenged by two Awendaw residents and the Coastal Conservation League. This lawsuit is the one the town recently lost in court.
Included in the court filings was a 2011 letter from the Paul Bradley, supervisor of the Francis Marion National Forest, to the mayor of Awendaw stating the U.S. Forest Service did not intend for its 1994 letter to be a petition for annexation of national forest land by Awendaw. Bradley further stated the forest service never petitioned Awendaw for annexation of national forest land.
Four times the Town of Awendaw annexed land from the Francis Marion National Forest without following state law. It used these 10 foot strips of national forest land to bring town boundaries adjacent to private tracts of land that it also annexed.
What was the driving force behind these illegal annexations? Potential development of the private tracts of land and an increased tax base for Awendaw.
Who cares what state law says when there is potential increased town revenue involved?