The South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Current SCELP Cases

Seismic Testing

On May 1, 2015, the DHEC staff issued the first ever authorization allowing seismic testing for oil and gas reserves off South Carolina's coast. Seismic testing can have catastrophic effects on wildlife and marine resources, in addition to opening the door for dangerous offshore drilling activities that would threaten our tourist economy and commercial fisheries. On May 14, SCELP filed a request for review of the staff decision by the DHEC Board on behalf of Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, the City of Beaufort, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, the City of Charleston, Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin, the City of Folly Beach, the Coastal Conservation League, the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, and Abundant Seafood, LLC, a Charleston-area commercial fish retailer.

In mid-to-late May, DHEC staff authorized two more seismic testing projects, which SCELP likewise challenged on behalf of the same groups in addition to Sullivan's Island Mayor Pat O'Neil and the Town of Sullivan's Island.

These seismic survey projects collect data by releasing intense impulses of compressed air into the water approximately every 10-12 seconds. Due to the nature and extent of this seismic blasting activity, the activity will undoubtedly be felt in South Carolina’s waters and coastal zone, which supports an ecologically rich array of coastal resources and a multitude of economic activities related to coastal uses that face a significant threat from proposed seismic testing and the offshore drilling it will facilitate.

For instance, the noise impacts that will result from seismic survey projects will dramatically degrade the acoustic environment on which fish, mammals, and other wildlife greatly depend for their survival. Several scientific studies have documented whales in range of seismic surveys discontinuing their vocalization during testing, as well as many other impacts associated with heightened stress such as lessened feeding, swimming, and mating.

The Atlantic Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) expressly concluded that sound from airguns can affect the catchability of commercial and recreational fish stocks, which could devastate the over billion dollars in economic value to the state that marine fisheries provide. According the the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”), recreational fishing created over 3,300 jobs, $115 million in income, $307 million in sales, and $185 million in value-added to South Carolina’s gross domestic product. Coastal tourism is responsible for approximately half of a $17 billion tourism industry and the impact of outdoor recreation-related coastal tourism in South Carolina is approximately $7.046 billion, according to DHEC/OCRM.

Yet, despite the growing voices of local communities seeking to protect the quality of the coastal resources upon which our economy relies, especially the 17 municipalities, counties and public service districts who have adopted resolutions in opposition to seismic testing and the offshore drilling it will facilitate, the DHEC Board declined to hold a review conference for any of these requests.

We have filed Requests for Contested Case hearings in the Administrative Law Court in connection with all three of the authorizations for seismic testing. We have also filed a motion seeking to have the cases consolidated since they involve similar legal and factual issues and will likely entail the same expert witnesses.

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International Drive

In August 2015, on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League and the SC Wildlife Federation, SCELP challenged the DHEC authorization for paving and expanding International Drive, a currently impassable dirt road in Horry County on and adjacent to the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve, and impacting 24 acres of wetlands. While the road is inappropriately sited in the first place, Horry County originally agreed to limitations in connection with its plan to pave International Drive, including reducing the road from 4 lanes to 2 lanes and installing 3 wildlife passageways and fencing.

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Oakridge Landfill

OCRM has issued a water quality certification and coastal zone consistency certification to Waste Management to perform work associated with the massive expansion of Oakridge Landfill located in Dorchester County. Particularly, Waste Management plans to fill over 14 acres of freshwater wetlands for expansion of the class 3 landfill.

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Pawleys Island Church

This case involves a previous Consent Order of Dismissal in which SCELP represented individuals seeking to prevent filling of wetlands associated with construction activities. As a result of a negotiated settlement agreement, the Church agreed to leave half of the onsite wetlands in a preserved state. However, in 2014 the Church received authorizations to proceed with additional construction activities that would eliminate all of the remaining onsite wetlands. We challenged those authorizations in the Administrative Law Court as inconsistent with and in violation of the Consent Order.

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Papas Island

This case involves a dock permit that is unusual and particularly egregious due to its location. In particular, DHEC has granted developers a permit to construct a dock from Pappys Island, a previously undeveloped 104-acre marsh island that is surrounded by the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. The developers have also obtained a septic permit for the Island, and they seem to be intent on introducing unprecedented development into one of the most important undeveloped swaths of land in the State.

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Surface Water Withdrawal Act

SCELP served a case on September 9, 2014, that requests that DHEC overturn the parts of the Surface Water Withdrawal Act that allow industrial farms to withdraw large amounts of water entirely unfettered by a regulating permitting process. This means that while other landowners are losing their long standing water rights, industrial agriculture operations are being granted far superior rights with fewer restrictions, despite their use of extreme amounts of water.

DHEC filed a motion to dismiss and we filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in November, 2014.

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Pawleys Island Groin

We are challenging a permit issued to Georgetown County for construction of a groin on the south end of Pawleys Island. Groins are an outdated tool for addressing coastal erosion and are universally disfavored in the scientific community because of their known negative impacts on downdrift beaches. We are representing the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters of Georgetown County, and the Coastal Conservation League in challenging this permit.

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New Cruise Ship Terminal

The S.C. State Ports Authority is seeking to construct a new, expanded cruise ship terminal at Union Pier in the heart of the historic district of downtown Charleston. On behalf of a coalition of community groups, SCELP filed a challenge to the state permit that authorizes construction of the new terminal in the Administrative Law Court and the case was assigned to Chief Administrative Law Judge Tripp Anderson.

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Marlboro County Landfill

MRR Sandhills, LLC, proposes to build a municipal solid waste landfill on the North Carolina border in Marlboro County. DHEC has issued two preliminary approvals: (1) demonstration of need; and (2) consistency with the county solid waste plan.

Marlboro County has appealed both of these approvals and they are pending in the Administrative Law Court. We filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Citizens for Marlboro County. Marlboro County ships its garbage to the Lee County Landfill and argues that there is no need for this landfill, and we are supporting the County’s argument.

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Arcadia Lakes

Roper Pond, LLC, owns a 15-acre tract on Trenholm Road in Richland County, bordering on the Town of Arcadia Lakes. Roper Pond proposes a high density apartment complex on the tract. The tract includes a nice shallow pond full of lily pads that is part of the Gills Creek watershed and runs through Arcadia Lakes. The development would excavate the pond to convert it to a stormwater detention pond. DHEC issued a stormwater permit to the developer and we appealed.

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EAGLE Landfill

MRR Highway 92, LLC was granted a permit to construct a construction and demolition debris (C & D) landfill in Laurens County. We appealed the permit for a citizens group known as EAGLE.

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Deerfield - Storm Water & Wetlands

Deertrack Golf, Inc., owns a golf course in a mature Surfside Beach development known as Deerfield Plantation. Deertrack has entered into a contract to sell the golf course property to Bill Clark Homes. Bill Clark proposes to develop 287 lots on half of the golf course property (the other half will be developed later). The POA's members are homeowners in a single-family home development that is surrounded by the golf course property. Most of the homes border the golf course. There is a long history of problems with flooding, and it appears that both the golf course and the residential development were built on former wetlands. DHEC/OCRM issued a storm water permit and coastal zone consistency certification for the development project. We have appealed for the POA.

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Kiawah Island Revetment

Kiawah Development Partners (KDP) applied for a permit for a 2,750-foot revetment on the Kiawah River at the south end of Kiawah Island. The purpose of the revetment would be to stop erosion and to stabilize the shoreline so that KDP can build a road to develop the narrow spit of land known as Captain Sam’s Spit.

OCRM denied most of the request, allowing only a 270-foot revetment along the edge of the parking lot at Beachwalker Park, the only public access on Kiawah. KDP appealed, and we appealed the 270' permit.

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Chem Nuclear Landfill

This is the on-going appeal of the renewal license for the low level radioactive waste landfill near Barnwell. The Chem Nuclear landfill has a convoluted history and is a symbol of SC’s status as the nation’s dumping ground. Opened in 1971, it is one of three low-level radioactive waste landfills in the country. It was limited to regional use and slated for closure in 1992, but the closure deadline was extended twice by former Governor Carroll Campbell, and then former Governor David Beasley scrapped the planned closure and opened the facility to the entire nation.

Under a law promoted by former Governor Jim Hodges, it is now limited to waste from the Atlantic Compact states of New Jersey and Connecticut, and a limited amount from other states.

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