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Wave of Ire Over Lake's New Name

April 24, 1988|G.G. RIGSBY | Associated Press

CLARKS HILL, S.C. — It's been compared to the Revolutionary War. It's the little guy against the Establishment, the underdog fighting for a principle.

It's all about how Congress changed the name of Clarks Hill Lake to Strom Thurmond Lake, after the veteran Republican senator from South Carolina, without asking residents of the area what they thought of the idea.

"I think we should change the Constitution from 'We the people' to 'You the Congress.' They could tell us what we need and what to call everything down here," said Dan Elswick, owner of Ridge Road Bait and Tackle in Appling, Ga.

Some said they felt emotional attachment to the name, which was taken from this nearby town when the Army Corps of Engineers first filled the 70,000-acre lake 44 years ago. Others said they had built business reputations around the name, which was given to fishing tournaments and speedboat races and emblazoned on souvenirs.

Others are just upset about the way the name of the lake, on the Georgia-South Carolina border, was changed.

Swift Passage to Law

Rep. Butler Derrick (D-S.C.) introduced a bill suggesting the change on Dec. 3, two days before Thurmond's 85th birthday. The Senate passed a similar measure on Dec. 4, and by Dec. 23, President Reagan had signed it into law.

Derrick said the chairman of the Clarks Hill-Russell Authority of South Carolina had approached him about changing the lake's name. The authority, a committee of eight, was set up in 1946 to "assist, promote and cooperate" in the development of the Clarks Hill and Russell lakes on the Savannah River.

Its chairman, John McAllister, said the board members, who are appointed by the governor, decided among themselves that naming the lake after Thurmond would be a good idea because of all he has done to support the area.

McAllister said they didn't ask for public comment because "we were not making the final decision. We had no control over Congress."

Yet when Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) introduced the name change proposal in the Senate, the authority's unanimous support was entered into the Congressional Record.

"It was our impression that the local folks in the area were supportive of the change," said Dole aide Jim Whittinghill.

Locals Seek Compromise

A number of businessmen around the lake have submitted petitions asking for a compromise--change the name of the lake back to Clarks Hill and leave the dam and the road across it named for Thurmond, whose name is already on schools, federal buildings and streets around the state.

The petitions are being distributed by a group called "Keep Our Lake Clarks Hill," led by Roy Giles of Lincolnton, Ga., and Phillip White of Clarks Hill.

The two men said they have collected more than 20,000 signatures and have taken out newspaper ads, gone on television and radio and sought status as a nonprofit agency so they can accept donations to the cause.

They realize that a compromise also will take an act of Congress, and they think it will require support from Thurmond.

Thurmond has said he was deeply honored by the lake's new name, and he would not comment on the proposed compromise. He said he doesn't consider it a serious problem. "I do hope the controversy will subside," he said.

It's not the first time the lake's name has been changed. When it was first built, a typographical error made it "Clark Hill Lake" instead of "Clarks Hill Lake."

It took 26 years for Congress to restore the missing "s."

The sponsor of that legislation was Thurmond.

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