The Aiken City Council on Monday night gave introductory approval to a city code amendment that would enable the shooting of guns inside city limits for licensed wildlife culls, a touchy decision that was made following a marathon – and at times quarrelsome – public hearing.
The code change needs two nods to go into effect. The approval Monday, 4-2, was just the first.
City Council members Ed Woltz and Gail Diggs dissented. City Council member Lessie Price was absent.
City Council meets again later this month, but the matter likely won't be on that agenda. Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon, speaking before and during the regular meeting, said he did not want to rush things and wants to make sure all questions get answers and all bases are covered.
"I will just say that this will not be up for second reading until there are some serious amendments to this," the mayor warned.
The code change, if eventually passed, would be effective citywide. But the idea – updating rules to allow the killing and harvesting of hazardous or destructive animals – was drawn to the front by the Woodside Plantation Property Owners Association, a community governing body that has complained of deer overpopulation and the dangers and damage that it brings.
"I guess the genesis of this goes back to the Woodside POA conducting a referendum to cull deer..." City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said Monday, later describing the matter as one of "tremendous" interest.
Earlier this year, the Woodside Plantation community voted in favor of a deer cull. WPPOA President Mary Shultz on Monday night hinted the neighborhood was quickly running out of options.
A cull in Aiken would require a permit from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and would also require the permit be filed with the Aiken Department of Public Safety ahead of time, according to the amendment discussed Monday. The natural resources department, though, wouldn't directly monitor the thinning of the herd as it plays out.
Wildlife management practices are reinforced by state law. Both the Public Safety chief and the city's counsel have previously approved the amendment language.
Similar culls have been done in the Lowcountry, namely around Hilton Head and Beaufort. Thousands of deer have been removed over the years without incident, according to SCDNR big game specialist Charles Ruth.
"I know it's new to you, but it is not new, OK?" he told City Council on Monday. Ruth was applauded as he sat down, having spoke for almost an hour.
The fact that it's not new, though, did seemingly little to tamp down complaints and resistance Monday night.
One man, Ralph DiSibio, urged City Council not to hand over control to the state – to the natural resources department.
Another man, Robert Osteen, described a cull as "mass murder," which drew a rebuke from another speaker. He was chided by another man after the vote.