South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Cliffs Mountain Park

Cliffs Communities Inc. proposed to build a golf course community on a 5,000 acre tract in Greenville County, along the North Saluda River. The golf course was planned by Gary Player and the design calls for the piping, bridging (24 crossings by bridges and “play overs”), impounding, and other alterations of the river and its tributaries.

Upstate Forever, Sierra Club, South Carolina Native Plant Society, South Carolina Wildlife Federation, and Trout Unlimited requested that SCELP represent them in appealing the DHEC 401 water quality certification authorizing the project issued in 2010.

Cliffs owned approximately 5,000 acres located off the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway 11 in Greenville County on which it planned a private gated community of housing and apartment units, a residential inn, offices, retail stores, and an 18-hole golf course. The golf course would run along 2.5 miles of the North Saluda River and its tributaries. As part of the golf course construction, Cliffs proposed to pipe and fill 1, 643 linear feet, and to impound 535 linear feet of tributaries of the North Saluda River. The development plans also included 16 proposed bridges over the North Saluda River, a navigable waterway: 1 bridge for automobile traffic, 11 bridges for pedestrians and golf carts, and 4 bridges for pedestrians. The proposed design of the golf course also included more than ten points at which golf balls will be hit over the river.

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The development lies within the Blue Ridge Escarpment of South Carolina, an area that has been recognized as an ecosystem of global significance.

We appealed the permits claiming that DHEC failed to consider alternatives that would have greatly reduced the impacts on the North Saluda River, its tributaries, and the recreational uses of these public waterways, not to mention the adverse impact on special and unique habitats and permanently alter the aquatic ecosystem (all in violation of the 401 water quality certification regulations). After the DHEC Board upheld the permits, we appealed to the Administrative Law Court the storm water permit and a permit for a sewage system that will have a high ground discharge.

Pending litigation, the conservation organizations represented by SCELP and the developer settled the issue by agreeing on several and important modifications to the original project, including: a revised gold course design, the installation of riparian buffets along both sides of the North Saluda River, a reduced number of bridges and playovers, specific limitations on irrigation and water withdrawals, and guarantees for the public use and enjoyment of the river for paddling and fishing.

Cliffs Mountain Park

In the Blue Ridge Escarpment of South Carolina, the combination of dramatic changes in elevation and high rates of rainfall has created a rich and diverse habitat for plant life, which includes more than 400 species of rare plants and more species of trees than in all of Europe. With its steep slopes, small streams, and permeable soils, the area is particularly vulnerable to harm from development.