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Ports Authority to protect 1,100 acres near Francis Marion National Forest

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The S.C. State Ports Authority plans to allocate $4 million to protect 1,100 acres near the Francis Marion National Forest as part of its mitigation plan for the Charleston Harbor deepening project.

The land, known as the Fairlawn tract, will be conserved to compensate for 334 acres of freshwater wetlands that are expected to be harmed or altered by saltwater as the harbor is dredged to 52 feet.

The recommended mitigation was for 665 acres, but the ports authority did not find a site that size that matched the criteria required by environmental groups.

The port instead opted to buy the 1,100-acre parcel, which abuts nearly 4,000 acres protected by the Boeing Co.’s mitigation plan for its Dreamliner campus in North Charleston, said Barbara Melvin, the port’s senior vice president of operations and terminals.

The board discussed the land purchase, which was part of the Environmental Impact Statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District, during a board meeting Friday.

The ports authority and the Open Space Institute, a nonprofit land conservation association that is purchasing the property on behalf of the port, signed the land agreement Monday. Federal dollars will cover $807,000 of the land cost; the state will pay for the remaining $3.2 million out of the $307 million harbor deepening fund.

This 1,100-acre tract was recommended for mitigation with input from the Army Corps, and the tract will be managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Melvin said.

“There could be an 1,800-acre tract that’s out there that doesn’t address the impacts that you need, so it’s the actual specifics of the piece of property and what you can recreate from what you’ve changed ... and this was the property that matched the best,” Melvin said.

The additional 435 acres that will be protected also gives the port additional contingency in case anything changes during the design phase, Melvin said.

Newsome said the hard-bottom habitat mitigation plan still needs to be done.

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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