Why is it that now folks cannot go into the creek to get their livelihood. Why not? I know that these developers want to build their fabulous houses on the creek to overlook the creek but when they came into the area…. They don’t understand. People were there. We had a way of life. We had a lifestyle, a very viable lifestyle. We lived off whatever creatures in the water that were edible. We were healthier.”
Sondra has spent the last twenty years watching developers move into the coastal area known as Little River, which has been the home to one of the thriving Gullah communities of South Carolina. Her particular community lived directly off the diverse marsh lands and ocean, championing organic farming and sustainable fishing practices since the 19th century. 1
The developers changed that. Creek and coastal homes cleared the wetland forests and contaminated the water. “Since the trees were cut down for development there is nothing to soak up the water during the floods of last October. These new developments are not sustainable; the developer completely deforested and then places imperviable surfaces where water is unable to soak into the ground, not to mention rainwater runoff into the waterways.”2
Once her community was able to catch all of their food in the creeks and ocean. Now it is against the law. She has seen the rates of diabetes, obesity and stroke set into a community that now eats more processed foods. At St. Paul AME Church, she sees more congregants suffering. “We came from the water. We arrived here from the water. Why can’t we live off the water?”
As part of the Gullah Geechee Heritage Committee of Horry County, Sondra spends most of her time advocating for the Gullah Geechee community and organizing the yearly festival in Little River. Even though the Gullah Geechee Corridor was federally recognized and a National Park Service Designated Cultural Area in 2006, developers and city planners are under no obligation to protect the traditional livelihoods that made this community thrive, and now the Gullah Geechee community’s contributions to the cultural diversity of the Grand Strand are being eroded like the coastal banks.
Sondra has lived in the same house with her mother her entire life. Her house was once quiet, situated right off a two-lane road, with a well and a septic tank. But as more people came to the coast, she and the other homeowners in the community were now required to hook into the city water and sewer.3 “It costs $8,000 to hook up to the sewer and the original residents had to pay, unlike the new residents. You had to pay $500 up front. You go to the meeting, and they have a bank there. If you don’t have the money to pay for city sewer hookup, you have to put a lien on the mortgage of your house. The first time you have to miss a payment, that’s it. They put your house up for auction. Can you believe that? You are forced to hook up to the county sewer and people are having to put up the title up for their property.” 4
However, some remnants of rural life remain - such as the electric co-op -- but increased pressure on the grids have raised already high prices in recent years.5 “I would rather turn my heat on and pay the electric company than pay the doctor. We are on a Co-op, Horry Electric. They buy their power and re-[sell] it to me, from Santee Cooper; it is high, it is high, it is high. In my house the electric bill is 300 dollars a month and it has been up to 500 dollars. You struggle and pay. If you don’t, they will cut it off in a minute. That is not just this house, everybody is complaining about it and people aren’t even putting up Christmas lights like they used to.”6
Sondra uses her advocacy for the Gullah Geechee people to guide her spirit. She raises her hands up, praying, “ We are recognized as a historical people under the National Parks Service. We should be custodians of the land, of the water. I am going to call our state legislature, get more recognition for our needs. I am not going to give up. I will keep on keeping on!”
Salt Marshes- Salt marshes are not only an integral part of the Gullah heritage, they are an important part of South Carolina's eco-system. As temperature and sea levels rise, the unique habitat of the salt marsh becomes more threatened.
Lack of sustainable development in the past created difficulties for Sondra's way of life. Sustainable choices going forward are imperative to preserving an important culture and way of life.
There are many regulations and policies that benefit organizations but also create less than ideal situations for people and the environment.
Centrailizing Utilities- Large scale utilities depend on customers and when people opt out of the grid, it costs other customers more and the cost of distribution goes up. While decentralizing off the utility grid would be more sustainable, the current utility system does not see an economic path forward and, in turn, are finding ways to further centralize.
South Carolina utilities were created for citizen energy use. To continue that trend, utilities must work with citizens in dealing with energy transition for the future.
South Carolina has become an expensive place for energy. Without options, citizens are forced to pay higher bills without hopes of reduction in the future.