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County OKs heelsplitter measure

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By Jenny Hartley

County Council passed a resolution Monday night that will allow development to continue in an area inhabited by an endangered mussel.

Council passed the resolution, which was hotly debated at its Jan. 7 meeting, in a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Jack Estridge dissenting. The resolution allows water and sewer line construction and other development to continue in the Six Mile Creek basin in Indian Land, where the Carolina heelsplitter has been found.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials told county officials that development would not continue if council did not develop regulations to protect the heelsplitter, which lives in only 10 streams in North and South Carolina.

County attorney Frannie Heizer said she'd like for a temporary ordinance to go before the county Planning Commission in February. The temporary ordinance would be in place until the end of the year.

By that time, a commission appointed by council should have a permanent ordinance that officials would like passed by Dec. 31. The commission, to be made up of property owners, developers and others appointed by council, will be tasked with making a report to the council and planning commission by September.

The resolution approved Monday includes buffers for Six Mile Creek to be 100 to 200 feet. Those developing property will have to pay to encroach those buffers. Those funds will be paid to a conservation bank, which will buy property in the Flat Creek area, where a more viable, stable population of Carolina heelsplitters lives.

"Flat Creek is primarily undeveloped. It has a good population of Carolina heelsplitters and a chance to have a good impact," said Randy Wilgis of Environmental Banc & Exchange of Camden. "The Flat Creek population probably has the best chance of surviving."

Estridge appeared frustrated during the discussion.

"It just seems like the federal government is making people give up money for a species that is already well protected in Lancaster County," Estridge said. "Why do we need more space for them?"

Councilman Larry Honeycutt soon put an end to the debate.

"We can knock it around all we want to, but if we don't pass this tonight, we're going to be in serious trouble," he said.

The original plan was to have the resolution be effective for no longer than three years, but Councilman Wesley Grier made the motion to have it effective until the end of 2008.

"Just to let you know, we still don't like it," said Councilman Fred Thomas, after the vote.

Contact Jenny Hartley at 283-1151 or jhartley@thelancasternews.com