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Pine Island Guards Privacy: But SCE&G’s Lake Murray Club is Seen As ?Fair Game’ By Those Seeking More Recreation

November 20, 2006

By Tim Flach, The State, Columbia, S.C.

Nov. 20–The longtime privacy of a premier site on Lake Murray is starting to come into question.

The 27-acre Pine Island has been a private club for about 50 years. And owner SCE&G plans to keep it that way.

But, with growing pressure for more public recreation sites, and limited places to put them, shoreline leaders and residents say it might be time to reconsider Pine Island’s status.

“I don’t think it’s out of the question,” said Steve Bell of Lake Watch, a self-appointed watchdog of SCE&G’s lake management. “It’s fair game to look at that.”

SCE&G’s club is about a mile from the dam, in the more developed eastern half of the lake where federal and state recreation experts say new parks, natural areas and boat landings are needed.

The site is open only to employees and retirees of SCANA, the utility’s parent company, and related subsidiaries. Members pay dues to use Pine Island for private functions, such as weddings, parties and meetings. It includes a meeting hall, picnic areas, beach and dock.

Lexington County tax assessors value the site at $3.25 million.

Private clubs for utility employees are not uncommon on U.S. lakes created for hydropower, said Celeste Miller, a spokeswoman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But nearby Lake Wateree does not have any such clubs, according to Duke Energy.

No one is advocating Pine Island as a public recreation site under a federally required review of lake operations.

Still, the idea is “an intriguing thought,” said Dan Wells, executive director of the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission. His agency is looking at taking over some north-shore recreation areas run by the Midlands-based utility.

SCE&G — which provided few details about Pine Island, including how frequently it is used — doesn’t intend to open the site to the public, spokesman Robert Yanity said.

Some waterfront neighborhood leaders agree it would be difficult.

“I don’t think there’s any way SCE&G can be moved to do that,” said Bob Keener of Gilbert. “It’s a long-standing, accepted perk that the company offers.”

Some say it could be costly to convert the site to public use, and it would be years before it would be ready, even if the company agreed to do it.

But some property owners along Two Bird Cove near Lexington — site of a new public boat anchorage area created over their objections — say it should have been considered.

“If you wished to be creative and needed public space that might be ready to go, SCE&G currently operates a beautiful private lakeside facility,” homeowner Phil Hamby wrote in a recent letter to federal officials. “It has many amenities which could be great additional assets to the public.”

In 2000, SCE&G offered to donate 8,400 shoreline acres for parks and other recreation areas in exchange for a tax break. Pine Island was not included.

State and local recreation agencies said they could not take on managing that much acreage. Talks continue today about smaller donations for recreation and wildlife habitat.

SCE&G runs nine recreation sites on the lake, the best known of which are the beach on the south side of the dam and the boat landing on the north side of the dam. Plans call for 10 more, but there is no timetable for when they would open.

The company also has set aside more than 500 acres on the western edge of Lexington County for a new state park on the south shore.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The State, Columbia, S.C.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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