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Taking The Lead On The Land

By Meghan Daniel for The Island Eye News

The committee proposal addressed at Isle of Palms’ Jan. 26 City Council meeting is, as council member Susan Hill Smith described, a fitting direction for the island to go in, considering its “history of environmental leadership.”

Ideas for an Environmental Advisory Committee have been tossed around for the past several years, Smith explained, though none of them have actively been pursued before.

Now, she is spearheading the effort to bring this committee to fruition.

The mission of the Environmental Advisory Committee, as outlined in the proposal document provided to Council, would be “to advise City Council on matters of environmental impact, protections, conservation and sustainability by exploring innovations, best practices & data around changes.”

According to the document, some of the suggested goals of the committee include: protecting the environment, endangered species and natural resources; reducing litter and pollution; encouraging energy conservation; promoting environmental messaging and branding; supporting Isle of Palms as a strong environmental leader in South Carolina and model for other coastal communities and developing and supporting partnerships with related community groups. Forming this committee, Smith wrote, “makes a great deal of sense for a community like Isle of Palms, given the rich natural setting surrounding us and our responsibilities for protecting it.”

Ultimately, the committee would give “more people opportunities to serve the city in a leadership position” within a community that Smith has observed to be highly interested in civic engagement.

Her recommendation for the makeup of the committee consisted of seven members selected by the Personnel Committee, each of which would serve staggered three year terms and would meet six times per year. She also suggested considering having a member of the Public Works Committee as a liaison non-voting member.

These details and others related to the development and implementation of the committee, she explained, will have to be fleshed out and approved by Council.

By nature, the advisory committee would not have the power to pass changes to city codes, rules or regulations. It would, instead, be a resource for Council that will have the passion, flexibility and time to consider environmental issues related to the city’s operations and environmental footprint.

“The Environmental Advisory Committee may address matters as requested by City Council and its committees, and on its own accord take up issues and initiatives that fit within its mission, with regular reporting to the council,” Smith stated.

 The framework for an advisory committee such as this one, Smith said plainly, isn’t a novel undertaking for the city. Isle of Palms already has a number of citizen commissions that citizens can be involved in without having to be voted on, namely, the Planning Committee, Board of Zoning Appeals and Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee.

Additionally, Smith’s research has indicated that similar environmental advisory committees in other locales are fairly common.

The state of Pennsylvania, for example, has more than 100 municipal advisory councils working at the local level.

From here, the formal process of establishing an Environmental Advisory Committee on Isle of Palms includes continued discussion of the committee’s intended roles and responsibilities. Once those and other aforementioned details are determined, Council will need to approve an ordinance for the creation of the committee, which, if passed, will be added to Title 1 Chapter 9 of the city’s Code of Ordinances. Members of the proposed committee will also have to be approved by Council.

Council member Smith’s history of environmental involvement on the island dates back at least three years. She is the cofounder of the Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew, which was created in 2018 as a “grassroots effort” through which volunteers conduct regular beach sweeps for trash. This and the Isle of Palms Turtle Team, she said, are just two indications of the “great amount of time, talent, energy and experience” that people within the Isle of Palms community have to offer when it comes to environmental protection. She encouraged “anyone in the community who has a heart for the environment and a desire to serve to reach out to Council and express their interest [about the Environmental Advisory Committee] and to keep an eye on its progress to see when they might be able to apply.” Smith expressed hopes that all parties involved will rally around the idea and that, in turn, the committee will be approved and implemented within the calendar year.

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