Budgets - Cuts, Spending and You

Ecoterrorism and Public Dollars

By Paul Gable

Last week I did an article on ecoterrorism causing further delays in the International Drive project.

The form of ecoterrorism I was talking about consists of environmental groups essentially taking the stand ‘submit to our demands or we will delay your project ad infinitum.’

The International Drive project is not unique in the use of this technique.

The environmental groups will tell you they don’t threaten or bully anybody, but the effect appears to produce the same result. And this ecoterrorism is apparently not limited to the specific requirements of a project. It can apparently go well beyond those parameters if the environmental groups desire.

An example is the wetlands mitigation done for the Boeing plant in North Charleston.

General obligation economic development bonds were issued by the state of South Carolina to pay for infrastructure associated with the construction of facilities to ultimately be used by the Boeing assembly line. Included was a $5 million bond for wetland mitigation.

After paying the issuance cost of $250,000, the remaining $4,750,000 of bond proceeds were paid into the account of ACRET (Ashley Cooper River Environmental Trust), a non-profit entity established by the SC Department of Commerce.

ACRET was run by a 13 member board of directors appointed by the SCDOC, which included a number of members from various environmental groups.

According to a review conducted by the Legislative Audit Council of the SC General Assembly, ACRET was formed to fulfill the objectives of a Memorandum of Agreement between SCDOC and the SC Coastal Conservation League that stated $4.75 million would be paid into a trust account “to satisfy compensatory mitigation required by the Corps and to fulfill the terms of this Agreement”…”and shall be used to carry out the mitigation obligations imposed by the Corps and (SC)DHEC for Project Buffalo. Project Buffalo was the initial name for the project used by SCDOC.

The LAU review found that ACRET spent approximately $4.6 million more than necessary to meet the Corps requirements for issuance of a wetlands permit. The cost to meet Corps requirements was approximately $743,000, including bond issuance costs. Interest accrued on the bond proceeds in the amount of approximately $300,000, which was also spent by ACRET on various mitigation purchases.

SC state law 11-41-170 states, “The proceeds received from the issuance of bonds, after deducting the costs of issuance, must be expended only for the purpose of providing infrastructure.”

Information about ACRET is also included in discovery in the lawsuit, North Pleasant LLC v. SCCCL and E. Dana Beach, C/A No. 2010-CP-08-1771, now pending in Berkeley County.

During a discovery deposition, Nancy Vinson, an employee, at that time, of the SC Coastal Conservation League and Secretary of ACRET, testified that from the beginning, it was the plan to spend the entire proceeds of the bond.

Included in the expenses was a $2 million payment from ACRET to Ducks Unlimited, which was needed by Ducks Unlimited to pay down a line of credit that had been used to purchase land. The Ducks Unlimited land provided no mitigation credits from the Corps, according to the LAU.

Money from a state bond was put into an account to pay for mitigation required by the Corps of Engineers so a permit for the project could be issued. Any excess bond proceeds not required to specifically satisfy the Corp mitigation credits required should have gone back to the state treasury.

Instead, it was used to purchase other mitigation that was in the interest of various environmental groups, but not needed for the project.

This was not in accordance with state law, but appears to have been an unwritten understanding between the environmental groups and SCDOC, according to deposition testimony.

The Boeing project permits were approved very quickly with no appeals being filed.

Was this because of all the excess public dollars provided to ACRET to essentially be spent on purchases desired by the environmental groups, but not required for the project?

You can come to your own conclusions, but my guess is yes.

I don’t support public money being given away to private industry under the guise of economic development.

Even more, I don’t support public money designated for economic development to be passed to some private, third party entity so it can pay down debts that have nothing to do with the development project.

The issuance of bonds establishes government debt which is paid back with tax dollars. In this case, the bond proceeds were treated by ACRET as if it had won the lottery.

I guess in some sense it did.

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