South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Capt. Sam’s Spit road gets court go-ahead; conservation groups plan to appeal
March 23rd, 2016

By Bo Petersen

A wall to protect a road to a controversial development on Capt. Sam’s Spit can be built, a state Administrative Law Court judge has ruled, despite an earlier state Supreme Court ruling that stopped the road along a piece of the disappearing natural coast. The Coastal Conservation League plans to ask for a stay on the ruling and to appeal it to the Supreme Court again. “It’s an awful, awful decision. It makes a mockery of public use, of public benefit,” said attorney Amy Armstrong of the S.C. Environmental Law Project, which is working with the league.

Kiawah Partners, the island development company that wants to put a half-mile long, in-ground steel sheet pile wall along the road to support it as it crosses an eroding narrow neck to the spit, said it will go ahead with the wall and road.

“We plan to proceed accordingly,” said company spokesman Bill Hindman. The judge “found Kiawah Partners met all of the regulatory requirements. He specifically ruled that, based on the proof at trial, the erosion control structure and the future limited residential development on less than 20 percent of Captain Sam’s Spit will not have a significant adverse effect on the environment or any species.”

The law court ruling limits a revetment sea wall along the Kiawah River bank to a steep scarp below the parking lot at adjacent Beachwalker Park — about one-tenth of the distance Kiawah Partners wanted to build it.

The state Supreme Court in December 2014 ruled against granting a permit for a seawall and revetment for the access road, saying the public interest hadn’t been properly weighed in the decision by Chief Administrative Law Judge Ralph King Anderson III. The court returned the case to the administrative court for review. Anderson made the new decision this week.

The spit is wildlife-rich, 150-acre teardrop of exposed dunes on Kiawah Island’s western edge. 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.

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

Conservation interests say the spit is too fragile to be built on. 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 administrative law judge’s ruling comes as Kiawah Partners continues to push legislators to delay fixing in place a regulatory setback line that restricts how close to a beach building can occur, until a periodic assessment can be made that might move the line closer to the ocean. That bill is on hold in the state Senate as legislators grapple with other issues.

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