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Status: The SC Supreme Court heard the case for an unprecedented re-re-hearing! Stay tuned for their decision.
What is the issue?
Kiawah Development Partners (KDP) is proposing to build a ½-mile long concrete bulkhead and 50 houses on the sandy inlet at the southern end of Kiawah on Captain Sams Spit. This sandy spit of land is highly mobile. The piping plover, diamondback terrapin, and bottlenose dolphins (among others) rely on this area for nesting or feeding.
In 2008, legislation was introduced to Congress that would have removed federal protections from this spit of land. Thanks to the immediate response of hundreds of Conservation League members and activists, the bill was withdrawn and the spit will remain in the Coastal Barrier Resources System. This federal law identifies naturally sensitive or erosional coastal areas and discourages their development by prohibiting federal subsidies in the form of federal flood insurance and hurricane relief.
Unfortunately, this victory has not prevented developers from moving forward with their plan to build on this volatile spit of land. In an effort to stabilize the sand spit enough to build a road, the developers sought a permit to construct a 2,783-foot concrete bulkhead on public trust tidelands which would impede the public’s use and enjoyment of this area.
The state only permitted 270 feet of the bulkhead along the parking lot at Beachwalker Park. Represented by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP), we went to trial to ensure that the developer does not overturn the state’s denial of the long concrete bulkhead. The developer also filing a takings claim against South Carolina for denying this structure proposed on public tidelands.
In late October 2009, KDP was given permission for a 340-foot sheet pile wall that would be buried in the sand just inland of the river and act as an erosion control device when the river reaches it, to protect a possible future road and associated utilities for future development on the spit. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the SC Department of Natural Resources requested denial of this permit because of threatened and endangered species. CCL appealed this permit decision because of impacts to the wildlife and natural inlet migration.
Thanks to the testimony of CCL, SCELP, and the Friends of the Kiawah River, DHEC’s Board voted to deny the developer’s request for a permit for a 340-foot long sheetpile structure, overturning their staff’s decision. Our side pointed out cumulative impacts of the bulkhead and the development must be considered. The proposed bulkhead would ultimately affect the public use of the spit which has a long history of being highly mobile. The Board agreed cumulative impacts are a problem, asserting the developer’s claim that this permit application was not part of a plan to develop the spit simply “didn’t make sense.”
In November of 2011 the SC Supreme Court ruled that KDP’s permit request for a half-mile long concrete wall along the Kiawah River side of Captain Sam’s Spit was improperly authorized by Administrative Law Judge Trip Anderson. The sole dissenter of the November 2011 decision was Chief Justice Jean Toal. Thereafter, in response to a request from KDP, three Justices agreed to “rehear” the case and revisit the 2011 Opinion.
The Supreme Court reheard the case in 2012, and issued an extremely unusual decision: a complete reversal of the Court’s 2011 decision. The Opinion is disappointing because Captain Sam’s Spit is a fragile and unique coastal resource – the kind that our Coastal Zone Management Act was designed to protect.
Despite this setback, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP) and the Coastal Conservation League are committed to using all available legal tools to continue advocating against an ill-conceived project to build houses on the dynamic Spit. We were granted a rehearing with the Supreme Court, which was held in 2013. We currently await the court’s decision.
In addition, we will continue to monitor permitting activity for any future proposed development on the Spit and be prepared to advocate against future permits.
How would it affect South Carolina?
Allowance of the erosion control structure along the highly mobile Captain Sams Spit affects pristine habitat for threatened and native species of South Carolina. It also effectively takes the rights of South Carolina citizens by building in public trust tidelands for private use.
What can you do about it?
You can donate towards legal costs for this specific issue by visiting our donation page and designating your contribution for “Kiawah River.”
Or sign up to be a CCL activist, and sign up to receive the most up-to-date information from Friends of the Kiawah River.
- The ecology of the inlet is left intact, and the land is still available for public use and enjoyment.
- We lose pristine habitat for valued and unique species and we lose public tidelands for citizen enjoyment.
Related ArticlesLATEST COMMUNITY DOCK PERMIT APPLICATION SEPT 2011
Friends of the Kiawah River
KIAWAH DEVELOPMENT v. SCDHEC
DHEC says No Wall Through Spit
The Public Register of Seabrook Island
Post and Courier Coverage
Supreme Court gives go-ahead for Capt. Sam's Spit development on Kiawah Island
Related LinksDevelopment of Captain Sams Spit Part I
Development of Captain Sams Spit Part II