(Charleston) Post and Courier. May 15, 2021.

Editorial: SC oyster farm permitting needs more transparency

Regardless of whether a conflict of interest played a role in the state’s allowing a controversial oyster farming operation near Folly Beach — and most indications are it did not — South Carolina needs to improve its processes for reviewing and allowing this relatively new form of mariculture.

The changes should provide more notice — especially earlier in the permitting process — to those who would be most affected by the floating cages. The state also should study whether it charges enough to lease our public waterways for such farming, given the much higher lease prices in nearby states, or whether the current arrangement essentially amounts to a giveaway to the growers.

The latest installment of The Post and Courier’s “Uncovered” series is a bit different than the others. Although reporter Glenn Smith’s “Shell game” expose focuses on claims of self-dealing by a former state regulator, the real value is shining a light on the way the state works with those wishing to grow oysters in cages along public creeks and with those most impacted by it. What we see is that even when there are no conflicts of interest, our regulatory system is one in need of reforms.

Even those in the industry agree.

Trey McMillan, who has two oyster farming permits south of Charleston and serves as vice president of the S.C. Shellfish Growers Association, said an improved process could benefit not just the public but farmers as well. Currently, those seeking permits have to invest a lot to even get to a public notice stage. “I think there needs to be more communication upfront with surrounding land owners,” he said. “That needs to be very clear.” Also, he said state and federal permitting agencies sometimes send conflicting requests.

Two Charleston area state senators, Sandy Senn and Chip Campsen, have pushed for more public notice about plans for future farms, and we would encourage them to keep at it but also to question whether the state’s lease rates give state taxpayers fair compensation when growers are essentially able to limit public access to the public waterways, particularly since South Carolina’s current rate of $5 to $10 per acre is so far below North Carolina’s ($100 per acre). Also, the state should consider limiting how many permits it issues.

This incarnation of oyster farming is only about a decade old, and while Mr. McMillan says coastal geographical constraints will essentially limit the number of oyster farming permits much beyond the eight already on the books, his group is open to making it a limited fishery. “I don’t think that would be a bad thing,” he said. “It protects the people. It protects the farmers. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

While many find the cages unsightly, oyster farming has clear benefits, mainly providing restaurants with high-quality oysters while also relieving the significant pressure that South Carolina’s public oyster beds have experienced as the coastal population grows. Oysters also filter our coastal waters, so in that sense, the more of them, the better. (Maryland recently created a water-quality trading program that can reward oyster farmers for their role in helping clean up the Chesapeake Bay).

As with any other state-regulated economic endeavor, we need assurance that our government is finding the right balance between supporting the private interests who stand to profit and the public’s interest — in this case protecting the waters we all own. We simply don’t have that now.

___

(Orangeburg) The Times and Democrat. May 18, 2021.

Editorial: Masks going to stay with us for a time

Confused about masks? No wonder.

Following months of Americans being told that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 was the way to put aside wearing facemasks, we watched as national leaders including the president continued to advise that masks should be worn, even outdoors.

In the face of increased rejection of masks, leaders around the U.S. decided to begin changing polices. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster was among them, this past week ordering that parents should have the option of their children not wearing masks in schools. And he wants all mask mandates put in place by local governments lifted. It remains unclear, however, whether the governor has the power to overrule the state superintendent of education and local school districts. And local governments including the City of Orangeburg are looking at how to continue a mask ordinance.

As that was unfolding, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, under increasing criticism from politicians and others, decided to largely lift its mask “mandate” for people in the outdoors and for fully vaccinated individuals in indoor settings. Yet the guidance on all people wearing masks while with groups, while traveling and in schools remains. And those not receiving vaccinations are told to continue wearing masks, period.

Plus there is the matter of private businesses having the right to set their own policies on masks. Major companies have indicated they will maintain requirements for now, though Walmart has said it will begin allowing the fully vaccinated to go without masks in its stores.

So exactly how is that going to work? A person will have to prove he/she has been vaccinated upon entering the store? If people refuse to show any such proof, are they ordered to wear a mask? Are Walmart and other businesses about to become the vaccination police?

Face it, we are in a transition period in which there is a potentially dangerous reality: Vaccinated people are going to increasingly reject masks, and the people declining the vaccine are more likely to already have forsaken them. So there is little or no way to know in just about any setting whether the maskless person you see has had the shot/shots or not.

Officials in South Carolina and elsewhere say it is up to people to do the right things to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19, which essentially means you should keep your masks with you for the foreseeable future. If you are planning to go into certain stores and do certain things, you’ll need to be wearing them.

We suggest from there trying to follow the advice of the director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Dr. Edward Simmer, who in a Friday statement said:

“DHEC has reviewed the science behind the CDC’s recent mask guidelines, and we concur. South Carolinians who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks indoors or outdoors with a few exceptions. … Per CDC, people should still continue to wear masks when in schools, health care facilities, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and on commercial transportation. …. Those who have not been fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks, socially distance and take all other needed precautions to prevent COVID-19. This includes children, especially those in school.”

And here are the primary reasons to continue awareness of COVID protocols – and to get vaccinated if you are an adult. In Simmer’s words: “… we recognize that there is still much work to do in our fight against COVID-19. We still have many South Carolinians who have not had the vaccine and there is still significant spread of COVID-19 among South Carolinians who have not been vaccinated. We need to make sure every person in South Carolina has easy access to one of the very safe and effective vaccines. …”

___

(Greenwood) Index-Journal. May 18, 2021.

Editorial: Seeing things clearly on the bright side

We should always strive to look on the bright side of things.

For example, COVID-19 brought many families closer together as they could not venture out as much. It meant more family meals prepared and eaten at home.

Thus, while it’s easy to think about the negative aspects of the pandemic — fewer nights out and socializing in bars, movies not seen on the big screen, virtual concerts instead of live and, oh, let’s not forget how the pandemic actually claimed many of our friends and family.

Again, however, strive to look on the bright side of things.

And that brings us around to some legislative matters at hand.

While lawmakers didn’t quite take us as far back as the Old West, when everyone openly carried a gun and the only way to know the good guys from the bad was the color of the hats they wore, how they spit or squinted or the background music that played — or was that only on TV? — allowing holders of concealed weapons permits to openly carry their sidearms has to be a bright-side moment. Right? Now, in addition to displaying your COVID-19 vaccination card along with your work ID, you can display your CWP so everyone will feel safe when they see a Glock strapped to your side. And what are the chances that a non-holder of a CWP would dare to carry in the open? Just like a criminal won’t even consider robbing the convenience store that has a “No Concealable Weapons” sign prominently displayed on its entrance doorway.

While those gunning for death by firing squad have won that fight, not all the details have been worked out. There’s the need to have a safe place to conduct firing squad executions, of course, and then there’s the whole issue of having a designated firing squad. And the weapons.

Ah, but here again we should look on the bright side.

Perhaps some folks who want to carry their weapons in the open would also want to sign up for firing squad volunteer duty. Get a little practice in. That will help them with their accuracy.

Hey, as we said, look on the bright side.

At least the Palmetto State did not elect to go with open carry of both sidearms and alcohol, right?

END