The mixed-use 10 WestEdge building at Spring Street and Lockwood Drive includes apartments and a Publix supermarket. Developers of the project are seeing permission to fill wetlands to accommodate more construction. Brad Nettles/Staff

A Charleston-area lawmaker wants South Carolina’s environmental agency to put the brakes on an ongoing real estate development that would fill in wetlands near the Ashley River.

Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, sent a letter to the director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control on Monday asking the agency to reject the latest permit request for the WestEdge project near the Medical University of South Carolina.

The project is being built by the WestEdge Foundation, a nonprofit created by the city of Charleston and MUSC Foundation.

Construction is already underway or completed on several of residential and commercial buildings planned for the 35-acre area between Spring Street, Lockwood Drive, Fishburne Street and Hagood Avenue. They include a new Publix supermarket located in a new nine-story structure at Spring and Lockwood.

Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston.

Gilliard believes the development has gone far enough.

“I wholeheartedly feel that the peninsula is already overdeveloped and it would further destroy the pristine beauty of our wetlands by filling in this creek for even more buildings,” wrote Gilliard, who has served a decade in the Legislature.

“There comes a time when we must say enough is enough! We do not want to sacrifice any more land which is integral to an ever dwindling ecosystem so that developers can further their profits,” added Gilliard, who represents parts of the Charleston peninsula, West Ashley and North Charleston.

An engineering consulting crew in 2015 takes samples in the wetlands near where a landfill was built over the original Gadsden Creek. Regulators are being asked whether the wetlands can be filled as part of WestEdge project. File/Staff

WestEdge submitted permit application to state regulators and the Army Corps of Engineers on June 26.

The WestEdge developers asked the agencies to allow them to fill in almost 3 acres of Gadsden Creek and its tidal wetlands that run from the Ashley River toward Hagood Avenue to accommodate future construction work.

The permit request is a revised version of a 2018 application, which drew oppostion from a group called Friends of Gadsden Creek.

Michael Maher, CEO of the WestEdge Foundation, said they have been open and transparent about the group’s development plans since they began building several years ago.

They’ve worked hard, he said, to solicit input from the community and to work with environmental groups to alleviate any concern they might have.

The issue with developing the wetlands, Maher said, is complicated by the fact that much of the underlying area used to be a landfill for the city in decades past. By filling in part of the wetland, he said, it’s less likely that any remaining contaminants from the old landfill will be washed out into the Ashley River.

Gilliard said he is concerned the proposal will result in more water backing up on Hagood Avenue and flooding nearby communities, like the public housing in the Gadsden Green community.

“I’m against anything that involves filling in a natural creek or a natural marsh. I see that as a good filtering system to help prevent flooding,” he said in an interview.

The WestEdge developers plan to add a nearly 1-acre holding pond for stormwater at the intersection of Hagood and Fishburne, according to their application. They also plan to reroute stormwater in the area through a new drainage area that will run in between Riley Park and Stoney Field.

Filling in part of Gadsden Creek, Maher said, will actually reduce flooding by blocking incoming tides from pushing water in from the Ashley River. The flooding along Hagood, he said, will actually be improved by diverting the stormwater through different channels.

The stormwater plans aren’t enough to reassure Gilliard.

“That doesn’t resolve anything,” he said.

Gilliard said he plans to meet with DHEC officials later this month to request a public hearing in Charleston.

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