Monday, December 7, 2015

Both sides claim legal victories in battle over coastal development

Going tit for tat in Captain Sam's Spit spat

Posted by Dustin Waters on Mon, Dec 7, 2015 at 9:54 AM

click to enlarge Captain Sam's Spit - JON ENGLE, GREEN EYES AERO, LLC
  • Jon Engle, Green Eyes Aero, LLC
  • Captain Sam's Spit
Developers and conservationists earned legal victories in recent weeks regarding the decade-long battle over Captain Sam’s Spit.

In late November, the S.C. Supreme Court sided with those opposing the construction of a 2,380-foot steel sheet pile wall intended to prevent erosion along the neck of the spit. The Coastal Conservation League and S.C. Environmental Law Project appealed a ruling by the state’s Administrative Law Court, which would have allowed for Kiawah Development Partners to begin construction on the narrow strip of coastal land. The Supreme Court’s decision prohibits the developers from moving forward with the project until a formal hearing takes place.

It hasn’t been all bad news for those hoping to bring more development to South Carolina’s coastline. Last week, a state Senate subcommittee removed language from a coastal management bill that would have established a permanent boundary for coastline development. Currently, the Department of Health and Environmental Control is tasked with reassessing this coastal baseline every eight to 10 years, taking into account the constant erosion and accretion that reshapes the coastline. Under this system, the baseline beyond which new developments are prohibited can be moved farther seaward. The recommendation for establishing a permanent boundary came from the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management, which included Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.

“The Blue Ribbon Committee recommended that there be no buildings seaward of the setback line, and they made certain recommendations relative to the setback line. If you’re asking what are the benefits of that, it’s to protect the public beach and the dunes,” says committee member Bob Perry, director of environmental programs with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. “If you look at the coast from top to bottom, the entire Atlantic seaboard is very dynamic. We have certain places along our coast that are less dynamic than others, and we have other places, certainly around the inlets, that are extremely dynamic. They can change multiple times even in a given year depending on the circumstances. Everything about it is dynamic, and that’s what makes it a regulatory challenge, to say the least.”

According to Perry, the Blue Ribbon Committee served to brainstorm ideas for enhanced coastal management and made recommendations to DHEC that could be put forth as legislation.

“It’s a significant issue because it affects a lot people, both in the public and private sector. It affects habitat. It affects critters. It’s very costly to maintain. It’s a very complex issue to say the least,” says Perry.

The final report by the Blue Ribbon Committee recommended not allowing the coastal baseline to be moved farther seaward beyond its location set in 2011. The committee also found that beach accretion should not stimulate further development and that most shorelines that experience natural accretion are more likely to be at risk for future erosion. While the establishment of a permanent boundary was removed from the current version of the coastal management bill, conservationists remain optimistic as the bill moves to the Senate floor.

“We’re going to work to reinsert that language into the bill before passage. It is not over. We will work to get the permanent baseline language back in the bill, and we’re looking forward to working with senators who want to see that happen,” says Rebecca Haynes, government relations director with the League of Conservation Voters. “At least this is out of committee, and the bill is still alive. There’s still the opportunity to pass a good shoreline management bill for South Carolina. I think a lot of the narrative has been about the Kiawah development, and that is just one example of how this baseline plays into coastal development. Passage of this bill has implications for the entire coastline.”

Following the recommendation by the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, Charleston County Councilman Joseph Qualey announced his intentions to ask his fellow council members to pass a resolution in strict opposition to the bill as it currently stands. Speaking out against proposed development on Captain Sam’s Spit, Qualey released a statement, saying, “For nearly a decade, developers have tried to build on this land. The inlet is fragile and is home to native wildlife as well as a feeding location for bottlenose dolphins. Despite the need to preserve this delicate part of the Lowcountry, there is continued push to build 50 homes and construct a road along the inlet.”

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