Who would have thought that Charleston's Best Progressive once worked for Best Conservative and former Congressman Arthur Ravenel Jr.? Before co-founding the Coastal Conservation League, Dana Beach was a New York investment banker, worked at MUSC, and researched environmental issues for the Uncle himself.
"I became more and more interested in the fate of the natural world as I learned through bird-watching and being an amateur naturalist," says Beach.
In 1989, the CCL's first year of operations, their annual budget for three employees, rent, supplies, and bills, was $90,000. The organization has since become the most significant environmental voice in South Carolina, with four locations and a staff of 25, including a full-time lobbyist.
One of the first issues Beach took on was a revision of the Francis Marion National Forest plan, which the CCL successfully altered from a "high volume timber conversion plan" to a theme of ecological restoration. Soon after, they blocked a South Florida-style, dredged-canal plan that would have constructed the largest marina in S.C. on Seabrook Island.
None of Beach's battles have been easy, normally requiring years of persistent research and lobbying, and often resulting in personal jabs from those he opposes. Without his work, however, I-26 would likely be either a parking lot or a 12-lane mega-road due to the Port's proposed Global Gateway; which so many business people hailed as a godsend.
Although Beach is often the CCL's spokesman, receiving credit for their work, he emphasizes that he is no more responsible for their successes than anyone on their staff. The CCL is currently gearing up for another major scuffle over the port expansion, an issue that could clog and overcrowd Charleston's exit thoroughfares with trucks. "It's almost a taboo subject that people across the spectrum don't want to talk about," says Beach.
At the end of the day, Beach's motivation is simply to protect a place that he loves from being destroyed. Ask him his favorite places, and he'll list Bulls Island, the Santee Coastal Reserve, the ACE Basin, Edisto Island, Wadmalaw Island, and Four Holes Swamp.
"We are so lucky to be able to drive 30 minutes from here in any direction and experience internationally important natural areas," says Beach. "I have a dream job, because I get to do what I care about and what I love doing."