By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
Seabrook in general, and the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association specifically have earned a bushel of congratulations. Audubon International (AI) awarded Certified Sustainable Community status to SIPOA/Seabrook at a ceremony in Okatie on the Ides of March, 2018. Although three SC towns were recognized on the same day, it’s worth noting Seabrook secured the accolade last year making them the first in the state, and sixth on the planet to harvest the designation.
The AI website says “The Sustainable Communities Program is an international, science-based, third-party certification program that guides communities through a customized journey to become healthy and vibrant places in which to live, work, and play. That vision is founded in the three pillars of sustainability: a healthy local environment, quality of life for citizens, and economic vitality.” The long list of benefits that come with SCP status includes help promoting tourism, bringing residents together to work on common goals, and community pride.
SIPOA President Julie McCulloch was certainly proud.
Seabrook’s community association is a well-oiled machine staffed by 13 people, covering six square miles, and 2,600 properties. She likened her organization’s efficiency to the tenacity and determination of The Little Engine That Could.
“Little did our small staff and dedicated volunteer property owners realize when they undertook the challenge of receiving certification almost 7 years ago how much optimism and hard work they would truly need. I’m sure there were times they felt like it was just too hard, and thought about giving up. But their belief in the values of this program, and the long-lasting benefits for our community, kept them going
“This award would not have been possible without the relentless drive and passion of executive director Heather Paton. She was assisted by a number of property owner volunteers, two of whom were on this journey from the start, Jim Bannwart and Carl Voelker. It is for them and the property owners who share our little ‘slice of paradise,’ that I accept this award,” said McCulloch. This isn’t the first time Seabrook residents have come together with a common goal.
Seabrook Mayor Ron Ciancio spoke with The Island Connection about Seabrook’s sometimes checkered bouts with success of long ago. Seabrook based developer Robert Russell fell on hard times in 1989. Two years later, foreclosure proceedings left residents without the amenities which added so much to Seabrook’s allure.
The mayor’s reaction to memories of dandelions sprouting across Seabrook’s untended golf courses illustrated the angst such conditions generated. Rumors began to circulate of Japanese investors, who planned to seize control of everything residents held dear.
Twelve core residents drafted a business plan to purchase the foreclosed assets. Their “more the merrier” idea required a minimum of 500 participants and the “On Board by April” campaign was launched. The plan succeeded, too. The exercise in social activism produced a package of cash and loans which satisfied lenders. Frozen resources were thawed and Seabrook began its phoenix-like ascent.
The island’s organizations and residents continued to collaborate on collecting greenspace, protecting shore birds, and paving the way for AI’s recognition. “This acknowledgement from [AI] confirms that Seabrook Island is, and will continue to be, a healthy and vibrant place in which to live and vacation; it also recognizes our community’s commitment to environmental sustainability. Seabrook Island is known for both its natural beauty and its quality of life. The Audubon International award validates the commitment and efforts of our residents to not only maintain, but to improve upon these characteristics of our community, said Ciancio in an email.
AI’s press release recognized Seabrook’s “commitment to creating a sustainable future by developing and implementing sustainable management practices around the three pillars of sustainability: healthy local environment, quality of life for citizens, and a vital economy.
“To become certified, SCP members must develop and implement management practices and policies according to a community-driven Long-Term Sustainability Plan that has timelines and measurable goals addressing 15 focal areas: agriculture, economic development and tourism, education, environment, governance, housing, open space and land use, planning and zoning, building and development, population, public safety and emergency management, recreation, resource use, transportation, and Volunteerism and civic engagement.”
Heather Patton described how Seabrook and SIPOA satisfied the seemingly nebulous list. Seabrook isn’t exactly a farming community, for example, but cooperates with local farmer’s markets to satisfy the “agricultural” requirement. The Seabrook Island Natural Habitat group helped with education, and the Tidelines blog facilitates open communication and reduces paper use. The Beach and Lake Management Plans, recycling 20-25 tons/month, hazardous waste collection, promoting electric vehicles, and even the switch to LED lighting in the island’s fitness center played a part in meeting AI’s lofty standards.
“I’d like to thank the SIPOA Board and the entire community for their continued commitment to the program and to sustainability in general. This couldn’t have happened without them. Seabrook Island is a unique community with residents who are dedicated to preserving our greatest assets – our environment, quality of life and economic vitality. This award recognizes the community’s commitment to preserving those assets and sets an example for other communities in their progress toward sustainability,’ said Patton in an email to The Island Connection.
“We are excited to honor [Seabrook] for their commitment to creating a sustainable future. [SCP qualified] communities’ multi-stage, staff and volunteer led efforts will help to preserve their unique settings and enhance quality of life for all residents over the long run,” said Christine Kane, Executive Director at AI in a press release. Seabrook residents seem to concur.