Murrells Inlet will not be designated a bird sanctuary, but whether hunting will be banned within the marsh area, the community’s creekside waters or beyond is still a question.
That was the message Thursday night that state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch gave the roughly 250 people crammed into the Murrells Inlet Community Center.
Goldfinch called the forum in response to a petition developed by an ad-hoc committee that included representatives from Murrells Inlet 2020 and Preserve Murrells Inlet, and County Councilman John Thomas,, R-District 1.
“The reason why you don’t have a proposal in your hands is that I am not comfortable with a bird sanctuary and so I turned the proposal down,” Goldfinch said. “I am willing to have a discussion about hunting.”
Goldfinch shared host duties Thursday with MI2020, a community group that promotes the conservation of the inlet’s natural environment while fostering local community and commerce.
The change in focus of the meeting caught Gary Weinreich, a strong proponent of the sanctuary designation, by surprise. He was among those at a Jan. 13 meeting to discuss the issue that would lead to the community meeting and what he hoped would spur legislation designating the inlet as a bird sanctuary.
“... The expectations were that we would agree on the language for the proposed bill … so everyone could have a chance to look at it, and can understand it,” Weinreich said.
I feel like a sanctuary is very confusing. If you put up a sign that says Murrells Inlet sanctuary, no one really knows what that means. You don’t know if that means no boating, if that means no fishing, if that means no shrimping, no crabbing, no clamming. Even if we write it into the law that those things are excluded, we’re still going to have people calling me, calling [State Rep.] Lee [Hewitt], calling the DNR, county council, asking what they can and cannot do.
Former Sen. Ray Cleary introduced legislation a year ago about creating a bird sanctuary, but the bill died in committee. In October, proponents of the measure began a new effort to get legislation passed.
“I feel like a sanctuary is very confusing,” Goldfinch said Thursday. “If you put up a sign that says Murrells Inlet sanctuary, no one really knows what that means. You don’t know if that means no boating, if that means no fishing, if that means no shrimping, no crabbing, no clamming. Even if we write it into the law that those things are excluded, we’re still going to have people calling me, calling [State Rep.] Lee [Hewitt], calling the DNR, county council, asking what they can and cannot do.”
Opponents of the sanctuary idea discounted the concept even before the Thursday meeting began, distributing a paper that noted there already were sanctuaries in the area at Huntington Beach State Park, Brookgreen Gardens, the Cape Roman National Wildlife Refuge and Francis Marion National Forest.
“This petition and the effort is a way to take away our land, our beaches and our rights,” the paper stated. The paper also accused the sanctuary proponents of sponsoring a “secret petition.
“We didn’t really hear about this,” said Charlie Campbell, Dead Dog and Claw House owner.. “I think there needs to be a transparency.”
Speakers in opposition to the creation of a sanctuary echoed the ideas on the paper.
“Murrells Inlet has changed, whether for the good or not, whatever your opinion, it has changed,” said Mike Brady. “As far as the hunting goes, I think a compromise needs to be reached on this. I hear the shells going off in the morning. I don’t like it a lot, You shouldn’t be hunting around the house.
“The second part, is that if you’re a duck hunter, you’re a pretty responsible person,” Brady added. “If you’re going to take your chances on the water, you’re a pretty responsible person.”
He and others called duck hunting part of the Murrells Inlet heritage. Fathers have taken their children, grandfathers have taken their children out on the inlet to learn to hunt
Brady also questioned the transparency of the petitioners. “If this had simply been about hunting, it could have been an open forum for the entire community. What’s next?” he asked.
Longtime resident Bill Chandler, who favors the sanctuary designation, recalled that he had been hunting since 1945.
“It didn’t take me long to realize that the ducks in Murrells Inlet were not fit to put on the table,” he recalled. But there are some tasty ducks he noted.
“I sit on my deck in the morning, and the very first shot those good ducks life straight up in the air and they get out of there. If there’s shooting going on the morning in the inlet, I can guarantee you that it’s not ducks, it’s seabirds,” Chandler said.
“Let’s enforce the laws we have,” said John Hanna. “I’ve hunted in the inlet. My sons hunted in the inlet and I will continue to hunt in the inlet,” he said.
To that end, Goldfinch said and the DNR confirmed that two additional agents will join the DNR staff in Georgetown County, one of whom will be dedicated to Murrells Inlet.
“That will increase our presence and our ability to make contact with the public, to educate the public,” said Mike Sabaka, DNR director of legislative services.
“We should be educating our youth, because this is where they learn to hunt, “ said Arron Clay. “You just don’t take things away from a child because he did something wrong. You educate him.”
While no action was taken after the forum, Goldfinch said that he, Hewitt and state Rep. Russell Fry would get together and come up with a decision about legislation.