Jasper County mega-mall moves forward, faces environmental fight

The state Senate made headway in reaching a way to fund a new mega-mall in Jasper County without using state money. Jasper Senator Clementa Pinckney says Finance Chair Hugh Leatherman helped him work out a local tax option instead.

Senate Finance Chair Hugh Leatherman

That amendment to “Sembler bill” (from the name of the mall’s developer) calmed debate and allowed it to move forward in the Senate.
“If we’re not creating jobs, or helping to create jobs in the state, then we’re wasting our time. And he feels that very sincerely. And so, he’s like me. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. How do we get to the end goal of creating jobs,” Pinckney says.
Florence’s Leatherman, on the Senate floor Thursday, praised the bi-partisan teamwork to come up with a local option sales tax solution, saying “That is the way the Senate is supposed to work.”
Pinckney has asserted all along that this project, called Okatie Crossing means 2500 jobs and about $6 million in tax revenue for the region and state. He at first asked for state tax breaks, much like those promised to Boeing.
Despite the bill’s new success in the Senate, it still faces opposition —from the side of coastal environmental interests. The Coastal Conservation League’s Andrea Malloy says they do not oppose the mall, but they want it to be built in a different part of Jasper County. She says,”The threat is the over than 200-225 acres of hard surface that’s going to be plopped down really close to the head waters of a river that’s in a lot of trouble. And the head waters are the most sensitive area of any waterway.”
The Okatie River is the home of another state tourist attraction, says Malloy. because “Bluffton Oysters are famous throughout the state…but they’re an endangered species. The oyster beds in this river have been unsafe for consumption since 1995. Shortly after the last, large pavement project went in close to the waters, which is Sun City.”
The Coastal Conservation League, says Malloy, will now appeal a DHEC permit for the shopping mall site: “We don’t believe that this deserves a water quality certification. We believe that this will significantly impact the already impaired status of the Okatie.”
The league says they support moving the mall to a less sensitive area–but still in Jasper County.