The buck stops here.
The Aiken City Council on Monday will again consider a city code amendment that would enable the shooting of guns within city limits for wildlife culls. This time, though, the amendment is far more restrictive, a tightly worded product of committee meetings and public input, city officials say.
The to-be-considered amendment – lengthier than the original – now includes liability stipulations and shooter qualifications, among other things.
Before a cull, a fee would have to paid to the city. Those involved would have to comply with rules set by the city's on-call wildlife manager and a multimillion-dollar insurance policy would be required, according to the amendment.
The sharpshooters contracted for the cull would need to be experienced. A handful of applicable prerequisites is listed in the amendment.
Before the actual shooting can begin, safe shooting zones as well as home buffers would be identified. Shooting could only be done from an elevated spot. And frangible ammo – disintegrating bullets – would be required, as would suppressors.
Times in which shooting is OK would be determined by the city's wildlife manager.
"Safety of residents will be a priority," the amendment reads. Mayor Rick Osbon on Thursday described the updated amendment as a more comprehensive approach.
"I think we received some very thoughtful and deliberate comments…" he said in a brief interview with the Aiken Standard.
Both the city's attorney, Gary Smith, and Aiken Department of Public Safety Chief Charles Barranco have signed off on the new language.
City Council gave preliminary approval to the so-called culling amendment in early September, following a marathon public hearing. That 4-2 approval, though, seemed like a formality, as significant changes (now materialized) were foreshadowed.
"I will just say that this will not be up for second reading until there are some serious amendments to this," Osbon warned two months ago.
The code change, if passed, would be effective citywide, a point often made by City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh.
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 bemoaned deer overpopulation and the dangers and damage that it brings. A deer-spotting survey done last year culminated in a report stating there was a "high population of deer" throughout the Southside gated community.
"I guess the genesis of this goes back to the Woodside POA conducting a referendum to cull deer…" Bedenbaugh said in September.
The Woodside Plantation development earlier this year voted in favor of culling deer in the area; the vote passed by a wide margin, according to City Council documents.
But the association did not consult the city before its mail-in referendum, and the current code has halted the effort.
Wildlife management practices are backed by state law. Similar herd thinning – however controversial – has played out in the Lowcountry, particularly near Hilton Head and Bluffton.
Thousands of deer have been removed over the years without incident, according to Charles Ruth, a big-game specialist with the state's natural resources department.
"I know it's new to you, but it is not new, OK?" Ruth has told City Council.