South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Court ruling uncertain on Capt. Sam’s Spit wall
December 5th, 2015

By Bo Petersen

KIAWAH ISLAND — Both sides are claiming a victory in the battle over a development on Capt. Sam’s Spit after a somewhat contradictory ruling by a state Administrative Law Court judge.

The ruling appears to limit a revetment sea wall along the Kiawah River to 270 feet along a steep scarp below the parking lot at adjacent Beachwalker Park — about one tenth of the distance Kiawah Partners want to build it to support an access road to the development along the narrow neck of the spit.

But the language is less clear whether a bulkhead can be extended farther.

The company says the bulkhead can be built the entire length of nearly 3,000 feet. The S.C. Coastal Conservation League, which is challenging the wall, says no way. So from one side or another the ruling is almost certain to be challenged, continuing a 10-year battle over the proposed development that is being waged on both legal and legislative fronts.

A revetment is a sloped, reinforced surface usually constructed of rock or a similar material. A bulkhead is a vertical wall, usually made of wood.

The judge “approved a bulkhead with a 40 feet wide revetment to protect the parking lot for Beachwalker Park. The ruling also allows a timber bulkhead, without the 40 feet wide revetment, for the remaining 2,513 feet beyond Beachwalker Park,” the company said in a statement.

“Anybody who is that confused doesn’t deserve to go to the beach,” said Dana Beach, league director. “In the plain language of the ruling it says the length of the bulkhead shall extend 270 feet. Period.”

The spit is a wildlife-rich, 150-acre sand strip along Capt. Sam’s Inlet between Kiawah and Seabrook islands. It was left undeveloped while most of the rest of the island was built on, and is now one of the few undeveloped barrier island spits the public has ready access to because of Beachwalker Park.

The company has announced plans to build 50 homes on high ground on the spit. Company representatives have said building would take place along only 20 acres, and 85 percent of the spit is slated to be put under conservation easement. The ruling supported its contention the development could be built in an “environmentally sensitive” manner.

Conservation interests say the spit is too fragile to be built on. It’s prized for conservation and recreation because its cape beach is a feeding ground that, at times, draws seabirds by the thousands. Its inlet beaches are part of a rare strand-feeding ground, where dolphins drive schools of baitfish onto the beach and jump up after them to feed.

The ruling was made days after the Administrative Law Court ruled the construction could start on the road, only to be stopped when the league appealed to the state Supreme Court. It was a “remanded,” or new decision made after the Supreme Court last December rejected an Administrative Law Court ruling the revetment and wall could be built and returned the ruling to that court.

Like other inlet areas, Capt. Sam’s is continually reshaped by waves and wind. Currently, it is eroding along the riverbank where the road is planned, while the beach is gaining sand.

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