South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Seabrook Inlet Relocation

The Seabrook Island POA proposes to relocate the Inlet by blocking the present Inlet with a wall of sand and excavating a new inlet through Captain Sam’s Spit. In particular, bull dozers would build a 2,250' long x 150'-200' wide x 10' tall wall of sand on the oceanfront beach between Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island, blocking the present location of Captain Sam’s Inlet. At the same time, bulldozers would dig a 15' deep ditch through Captain Sam’s Spit, connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Kiawah River. This would serve as the new inlet. The purpose of the project is stated as erosion control on Seabrook Island.

Captain Sam’s Spit and Captain Sam’s Inlet are largely pristine areas of great ecological significance. Captain Sam’s Spit is an undeveloped barrier island located along the southwestern end of Kiawah Island. The Spit is notable in that it lacks human improvements, with the exception of minor improvements associated with a nearby county park. The general vicinity, including the Inlet, is otherwise in a completely natural and pristine state typical of a barrier island and dune area. The area proposed for excavation provides critical habitat utilized by the endangered piping plover for foraging and rooting, as well as for other important bird species.

Our position is that DHEC Staff’s decision to grant this permit is inconsistent with the Agency’s prior position that the best and highest value for the Spit is in a natural and undisturbed state for use by the residents of South Carolina, and that this project unnecessarily impacts critical habitat for the piping plover. DHEC has now twice denied efforts to introduce manmade construction to the Spit, citing as concerns: impacts to the natural functionality of the Spit and Inlet; harm to rare and threatened wildlife; modification of the untouched character of the area; and disruption of recreational opportunities. Each of these concerns are implicated by the POA’s proposal to bring heavy equipment onto the dunes and beach for months, to excavate an intertidal sand bar in the Kiawah River, to form a 10' tall wall of bulldozed sand, to block the naturally functioning and shifting Inlet, and to excavate a ditch through Captain Sam’s Spit.

The evidence of a need for this project is lacking. Specifically, there has been no evidence presented that erosion is taking place that could threaten improved properties; therefore, there is no present threat to properties on this part of Seabrook Island from erosion. In addition, South Carolina regulations, R. 61-101.F.5 and R. 30-13, provide a number of specific limitations and requirements for this type of project to take place on the active beach. This project has a number of problems as it relates to those regulations.

Administrative Law Judge Phil Lenski conducted a trial in this matter in November of 2012. We have submitted our post-trial briefs and are awaiting an order from the court.

Case Update

In December of 2014 this case was resolved by settlement agreement dismissing that case. After waiting over 2 years for a ruling from the Administrative Law Court, SCELP's client decided to dismiss his appeal with limited concessions.

Seabrook Inlet Relocation

Piping plover foraging at Captain Sam's Spit.