Making it easier for local residents and others to enjoy the Edisto River has become a priority for S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken.
The veteran lawmaker is spearheading an effort he hopes will lead to the removal of many fallen trees from the waterway in and around Aiken State Park near Windsor.
He also would like to create a long-term plan to keep the river clear of debris so kayakers and canoeists can move freely up and down it.
“We are at the very beginning stages of this,” said Taylor during a recent telephone interview. “There are still a lot of ‘ifs’ involved. It depends on how everything works out.”
Concerns expressed by a voter inspired Taylor to begin exploring the feasibility of funding and carrying out such work.
“Nearly a year ago, a constituent, who lives near the Edisto River, approached me and complained about the fallen trees and the difficulty of navigating the Edisto,” Taylor said. “Listening to him, I thought a cleanup project would be most worthwhile because that river is both a national and a state treasure. It is the longest (free-flowing) blackwater river in the world.”
The lawmaker sought advice from Alvin Taylor, who announced his retirement as the director of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, in May.
“He showed me where the money might come from to pay for this," Taylor said.
The most promising potential source was a state water recreational resources fund.
Then Taylor went looking for a contractor that could perform the work.
“It took me quite some time to find one that had the capability to do this sort of cutting because some of the logs are underneath the water,” Taylor said. “Not just anybody can do it and do it right.”
The Underwater Construction Corp., which is based in Tennessee, had the experience and qualifications that Taylor was seeking.
After identifying a suitable company, he was eager to get the ball rolling and conduct survey of the Edisto this past January in the State Park area.
But “DNR advised against it because the river was too high,” Taylor said. “It was like 3 or 4 feet higher than it is now.”
The survey finally took place last week, when the Edisto’s water level was at a lower stage.
In addition to three representatives of Underwater Construction, two DNR officers and Aiken State Park Manager Aaron Chavous participated in the effort to gather information.
“DNR provided two boats, and they went out and took photos,” said Taylor, who met with the group.
The survey covered an approximately 2-mile stretch of the Edisto.
It helped give the contractor’s representatives an idea of the scope of the work that would be involved, Chavous said.
He is enthusiastic about the possibility of a project that would focus on cleaning up the river.
“It certainly is needed,” Chavous said. “We try to maintain our 1.7-mile canoe trail with the equipment that we have and the staffing that we have. But it would be good to be able to expand upon those efforts and make the river more accessible upstream and downstream from our canoe trail.
“Anything that makes the river more accessible for the general public is going to benefit the park as well,” he continued. “We are a pretty popular access point to the river, and there is a public boat ramp that is a adjacent to our property.”
Riverside erosion caused by rising and falling water levels is the most common reason why trees along Edisto come crashing down, Chavous said.
“Some of the larger trees can bring smaller trees with them when they fall, and that causes additional obstruction in the river,” he added.
Taylor said Underwater Construction will use information collected during the survey to prepare a proposal that will include “how much work they can do for ‘X’ amount of dollars.”
Taylor plans to present that proposal to fellow members of the Aiken County Legislative Delegation.
“The delegation is the one that can make the commitment to the project and request money for it to be released from the fund,” Taylor said. “My hope is that it will be affordable. And if we can find success with a proposal to get a first cutting done, we may – and I want to emphasize the word may – be able to think about maintaining this river on an annual basis. That would be ideal in my view.”