The plumes of dust flying through the air didn’t seem to bother the radiant butterflies floating through the air at Goodwill Plantation nearly as much as the humans zooming around in all-terrain vehicles. I don’t know if butterflies are hampered by dust, but I know that the representatives from the regulatory participating agencies and I were certainly coughing a lot.
As a member of the Charleston District’s public affairs team, I don’t work directly on any specific projects, but I have to be knowledgeable and informed on all of the projects that affect the public. That’s why, when the District’s regulatory team was visiting possible mitigation sites for the proposed Haile Gold Mine project, with representatives from other agencies and the permit applicant, I went with them to see the sites and learn about the details behind the plan to prepare for the next night’s public hearing on the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).
Getting out in the field is the best part of my job. Most of the time, I’m stuck in front of a computer, writing articles like this one. I love that too, but being outside is wonderful. This trip was nothing short of that.
We began the day with a history lesson about Goodwill Plantation from Larry Faulkenberry, the current owner. He showed us around the property and explained what had been done in the different structures when people lived and worked on the site, performing tasks such as farming, blacksmithing and milling. The site mainly harvests timber now, but is often used to host school groups.
We then hopped aboard a fleet of ATVs and travelled into the depths of the woods. Goodwill Plantation is more than 2,500 acres of mostly woods and wetlands. We stopped at several points to hear about potential options for restoration and enhancement in those areas. Several of these included spots where there were opportunities to enhance the exchange of water through the wetland. I have to say, most people in my profession don’t ride on ATVs through low-water crossings with rushing water lapping at their feet. But learning about ways to improve the natural flow of wetlands, all while hoping your mode of transportation doesn’t stall out, is a very interesting way to spend an afternoon.
The site visit of Goodwill Plantation, which concluded with a trip up Cook’s Mountain to see the final restoration spots, gave me a great perspective of the specifics of the mitigation plan for the proposed project. Now, I was truly familiar with this aspect of the project. Our regulators had visited the site a few times, but now I had first-hand knowledge to try to answer people’s questions and point them in the right direction if any arose at the public hearing.
The public hearing went smoothly, with more than 300 people in attendance to ask questions and give their comments on the DEIS. I was able to understand exactly what people were talking about when they referred to parts of the mitigation plan because I had been there myself.
Getting out in the field is something that every public affairs or public relations practitioner needs to do to be good at their job. Whether you’re representing your brand through projects such as these or you’re representing a product because their company is paying you a boatload of money, you have to experience what you are representing so you can put your heart into it. No one will believe what you are saying if you’re just reciting talking points from a page. You need to have immersed yourself in your work so you can give an honest and accurate answer to every question.
Besides, who doesn’t want to go on a work field trip?