Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Nestled just behind the big orange barrels on Highway 17 are new and improved sweetgrass basket stands, built and paid for by the Town of Mount Pleasant and private landowners.
They might not easily be noticed these days due to the ongoing road construction, but the women who utilize these new stands are excited about their potential.
Tidewater Environmental Services was contracted by the Town of Mount Pleasant as the Sweetgrass Basket Maker Liaison. The Sweetgrass Basket Maker Liaison is a position required by a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to mitigate for impacts to the sweetgrass basket corridor resulting from the U.S. 17 widening project.
The MOA was signed by the Town of Mount Pleasant (Town), the Federal Highways Administration, South Carolina Department of Transportation, State Historic Preservation Office and National Park Service on Sept. 10, 2009. The MOA included a stipulation for the town to continue coordination with sweetgrass basket stand owners throughout the construction phase of the project, which was anticipated to be approximately two years. Per the MOA, the town agreed to designate a liaison to communicate concerns of the basket makers with the construction contractor and the Town.
“The overall collaboration and commitment between the Town of Mount Pleasant, S.C. Deptartment of Transportation, the Federal Highway Department, Tidewater Environmental Services and the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association over the past three to four years served to ensure that the sweetgrass basket stands along Highway 17 would be preserved and remain a part of our community,” explained Thomasena Stokes-Marshall, Mount Pleasant Town Council member.
Blair Goodman, environmental planner with Tidewater Environmental Services has handled the endeavor as the project manager and main point of contact for the contract. As the liaison, she has been responsible for attendance at construction kick-off meetings, SCAFA events, weekly highway project meetings and regular correspondence with the basket makers. She also coordinated with the basket makers and the construction team when stands required relocation due to construction or utility activities. In addition, her company has provided an annual report to the MOA signees outlining the town’s compliance with the MOA.
Goodman has also been able to create a comprehensive, up-to-date data base of where stands are located today and who occupies them.
“Throughout the planning and construction process of Highway 17, countless meetings were held with local basket makers to help ensure that the process would ultimately preserve the basket stands, while providing the ability for motorists and pedestrians to gain safe entrance/exits to and from their roadside basket stands,” Stokes-Marshall said.
“These efforts resulted in more than 60 roadside basket stands affected by the Highway 17 expansion project being either relocated and/or rebuilt.
After visiting many of the
newly constructed basket stands, I am pleased with the end results and commend all of the agencies and organizations for a job well done.”
There were originally 62 stands when the project first began. Some of those stands were relocated due to the highway project and others were relocated or rebuilt as part of the town’s developmental transportation package which gives developers a $1,500 credit toward the impact fee per stand they erect and occupy.
The town has built 33 new stands for about $1,350 a piece. “That shows an investment in the community,” said Mike Allen, community partnership specialist Gullah/Geechee Cultural heritage Corridor.
Several stands were relocated at a price tag of $700.
Town officials have been contacted by basket makers whose stands were not impacted by the road construction, but those requests could not be granted. However access to those stands was ensured, Goodman explained.
Allen said the new stands have started a buzz among basket makers and creativity among them has become apparent.
For example, he pointed out the birth of professional signage on many stands.
“This renaissance of awareness to the basket community has engaged the basket makers to become more creative in their advertising efforts and their marketing,” he said. “They now speak to government officials with more confidence and reach out to those who can help them.”
Goodman said that access to the stands in a safe manner was the priority. Paul Lykins, of the Mount Pleasant Transportation and Planning Department said the effort was done to the best of town’s ability.
There were physical constraints near some stands such as the width behind the sidewalks. There is room to pull in and turn a car around, he said.
In addition, the sidewalks provides a level of safety that wasn’t there before the road project.
The new stands resemble the older style ones but are much more sophisticated as far as their actual construction - to include hurricane straps.
The stands are uniform in construction, but each basket maker has the freedom to personalize or modify their stand.
Private developers who construct stands on their property do not have to follow the town’s design.
Private residential landowners who have their stands on their own property, also got a boost from the town.
Crushed gravel and stone were placed around their stands so motorists could access them easier.
The annual Sweetgrass Basket Festival will be celebrating its ninth year. It will take place June 1.