Growing up, Joan Giles said, Horry County’s Bucksport community was closely knit. Neighbors took care of each other.
Giles father, she said, ran a productive farm — complete with vegetables, cattle and hogs — and would give extra crops and meat to people in the community who needed it.
Other Bucksport residents recalled fishing the nearby Waccamaw River to supplement their families diets.
“As a young girl, we didn’t have to go to the store and buy groceries,” Giles, 79, said. “My dad used to feed everyone in this community because his farms were always prosperous and when people were in need we were able to step in.”
Over the decades, though, that community fabric has frayed. Giles said her neighborhood has drug problems now, and that issues with heirs property has left some residents vulnerable to losing their homes.
And now, a new marine industrial park along Bucksport’s section of the Waccamaw River could bring even more change.
That industrial park — now just a month away from completion — has put Bucksport at a crossroads. The nearly 50-acre industrial park could ultimately be home to boat manufacturers and other marine-related companies and Horry County economic development officials believe they could have tenants lined up in the next year.
Some community members welcome the project, and believe it will bring needed jobs and revitalize the area.
But others, like Giles, worry that a new industrial park will eventually bring other new development — including subdivisions of hundreds of homes — that could increase property values, raise property taxes and force longtime residents out of the historically Black community.
Already, Giles said, developers have their eyes on Bucksport. She regularly receives postcards and letters urging her to sell her property, she said. Developers also have their eyes on the S.C. 701 corridor, which Bucksport branches off of, and are seeking to build new subdivisions.
“If something happens and we have to move, where are we to go?” Giles worried. “We can’t afford to buy property elsewhere, and they’re not offering enough to build somewhere else.”
“When big industry starts coming in it usually pushes us little people out and I think that’s a concern for all of us.”
And, said Cara Schildtknecht, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, the marina could bring “environmental justice” issues to Bucksport. What will happen to residents if their drinking water — which is sourced locally — is affected? Will industry bring air quality issues?
“One of our major concerns for that area is that its a prominently African American community. This could easily become an environmental justice issue,” she said. “It could be a health concern for people. If you have more pollutants that means more treatment which means your water bills goes up.”
Grand Strand Water & Sewer says it will buffer the industrial park
So what exactly is this industrial park that could bring big changes to Bucksport?
The marine industrial park — a joint venture by Grand Strand Water & Sewer Authority, Horry County, Santee Cooper and the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation — came about nearly 15 years ago when the MBREDC saw an opportunity to build such a facility on riverfront land the Authority had purchased.
That part of the Waccamaw River, Grand Strand Water & Sewer CEO Christy Everett said, is deeper and wider than other parts of the long, winding waterway and could be used for industry. Other coastal counties, including Georgetown and Charleston counties, have ports and other marine-based industry that the Grand Strand lacks.
The marine industrial park itself features a deeper channel, a new concrete pier, a 700-foot bulkhead for large boats to dock and a nine-slip boat-builders dock for vessels 40 to 70 feet in length. The project also includes two lift wells and piers, one able to lift 100 tons, and the other able to lift 300 tons. New roads in and out of the park were also part of construction. Concrete boat ramps pre-dated the project.
Both the Army Corps of Engineers and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental control have signed off on the project, granting a 10-year permit for construction and operation in 2017. Horry County and DHEC officials are expected to give a final sign-off on the park within the next month, Everett said.
Grand Strand Water & Sewer, Everett said, has spent nearly $11 million to date on purchasing the land and building the industrial park infrastructure. Santee Cooper paid for design and permitting of the park, she noted, and the economic development corporation paid for consultants to help market the facility to companies.
Sandy Davis, the head of the economic development corporation, said her agency is now looking to recruit boat manufacturers and other marine-based companies to locate at the industrial park. She plans to attend a large boat show in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida later this year as part of that effort.
“Until really this year we haven’t had a chance to get it off the ground because the road wasn’t constructed and then when the road was constructed COVID-19 hit,” Davis said. “This is the first year we’ll really be able to get it off the ground.”
In response to concerns that the new industrial park could harm the Bucksport community, Everett said Grand Strand Water & Sewer, which owns more than 5,000 acres of land surrounding Bucksport and the park, has no plans to ever sell or build on that property.
“There’s no intention of any kind of development in regards to housing development,” Everett said.
Everett also said Grand Strand Water & Sewer “is very much a steward of the environment” and routine water quality testing of the Waccamaw River at Bucksport will continue. She said the agency would work to “improve the quality of life” for residents.
Still, residents worry.
That land buffer may indeed protect Bucksport from future development, but some fear that development further away could one day raise their property taxes. S.C 701 is already considered the next frontier of Horry County’s rapid expansion.
“Hopefully it won’t change the tax base,” Bucksport resident Garry Gause said.
Gause, though, supports the project, and hopes it will bring jobs and positive growth to Bucksport while keeping the existing community in tact.
“I’m good with it…as long as its going to benefit (Bucksport),” Gause said. “We’ve got to grow at some point because if a town doesn’t grow it withers up like a tree. You’d have to cut it down.”
Resident Melinza Weaver feels the same way.
“I know it’s going to (bring growth) but to me it’s fine,” she said. “You have to do something for the community.”
Could the Bucksport marina bring new jobs to locals?
Kevin Mishoe, a community organizer in Bucksport, sees the community at a crossroads.
Like Giles, his mother, Mishoe said he wants Bucksport to remain a rural community where residents are able to farm and fish as they have for generations. But he also knows the community is made up of working class people who need jobs.
“We are third generation farmers and looking to stay that way,” Mishoe said. “There’s a possibility of turning it into a positive, but yeah, residents are fearful about (how) that kind of growth could change their community and their culture.”
That “positive” Mishoe sees is jobs at the marine industrial park. Horry-Georgetown Technical College is currently working on a $300,000 upgrade to the James R. Frazier Community Center in Bucksport to equip it with space and technology for residents to attend job training classes through the college.
And college leaders, Davis, county council member Orton Bellamy and others said, have said, is willing to create new classes tailored to marina jobs when companies begin setting up shop. That means residents could train for, get hired at and work good-paying jobs at the marina without leaving the neighborhood.
“There’s hope there that if jobs come in we can provide training and our residents will be proactive,” Mishoe said. “As a community we need to focus on how we can make the best out of the growth.”
Also aiding the Bucksport community, Bellamy said, is an upcoming community area plan that could help tailor future growth and keep the area’s rural heritage in tact. Those plans are long-term documents to guide future growth and are legally binding.
“Same thing with all development is you want to maintain that rural integrity with the community there, I’m supportive of that,” Bellamy said.
The area plan, which will encompass Bucksport, Bucksville, Toddville and other parts of the S.C. 701 corridor will kick off with a community input meeting on June 27 in Bucksport, Bellamy said.
In the meantime, residents are left waiting — some worrying — about what’s coming.
“I do think that would help, that people could get decent jobs that pay well and I’m glad for the park to come through,” Giles said. “But yet I don’t want them to try to push us out just because they’re coming through. There’s really no place around here to go.”