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#06-15 January 23, 2006

House bill would provide needed funding for habitat protection

Legislators in the S.C. House of Representatives recently introduced a bill that would allow the Heritage Trust Program of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to borrow money against future earnings.

State Rep. Chip Limehouse of Charleston is the primary sponsor of House Bill H4430, introduced Jan. 12. The bill would amend the current statute to allow Heritage Trust to borrow against future revenues derived from a portion of the state deed-recording fee. The legislation would allow Heritage Trust to borrow $30 million to be paid back over 15 years.

The Heritage Trust bill currently resides in the House Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs.

Find out more about the committee at the South Carolina Legislature online site at: http://www.scstatehouse.net/html-pages/housecommlst.html#agr. Contact information for Rep. Chip Limehouse can be found at: http://www.scstatehouse.net/members/bios/1089772596.html.

Since 1986, some Heritage Trust land acquisitions have been funded by revenue from a small portion of documentary deed stamp tax paid on real estate transfers. In 2004, deed stamps brought in about $6 million for Heritage Trust.

"Currently, development is gobbling up the South Carolina coast at a rapid pace," said Limehouse, the bill's primary sponsor. "If we don't protect some of these culturally and ecologically significant lands, they will be lost forever. There's an immediate need for additional funds to provide for the acquisition of properties that qualify for inclusion in the Heritage Trust Program."

John Frampton, director of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said: "Timber companies are divesting themselves of much of the state's 12.5 million acres of forestland. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect thousands of acres of valuable wildlife habitat. The protection of large tracts is critical from a habitat management perspective."

State officials estimate that South Carolina forestland is being converted into urban or suburban uses at the rate of 200 acres per day.

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