South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Enviromental groups ask court to bring down controversial seawalls on Isle of Palms
July 31st, 2017

By Bo Petersen

The controversial seawalls at Wild Dunes are getting battered in court as well as by the surf.

The Sierra Club and the S.C. Wildlife Federation have sued in federal court to have the walls removed while the groups' appeal of a state ruling allowing the walls is heard. The groups say the walls, called Wave Dissipation Devices, interfere with sea turtle nesting.

"At least two WDS-induced false crawls have been reported in 2017," said Michael Corley, S.C. Environmental Law Project attorney. "Each time a would-be nesting turtle is blocked by a WDS, it amounts to a violation of the Endangered Species Act."

Loggerheads and other sea turtles are each considered threatened or endangered species. The project is representing the environmental groups.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control declined to comment on the filing, said spokeswoman Adrianna Bradley. DHEC's board overruled its staff earlier this year to allow the walls to stand.

The suit, an injunction request, follows an earlier federal suit by the groups charging the board with violating the Endangered Species Act. Also, the Sierra Club and the Coastal Conservation League have asked the S.C. Administrative Law Court to review the board's decision.

"False crawls" are crawls by a sea turtle from the ocean to the dunes that do not result in nests. So far this year, 6,608 false crawls have been reported along all the state's coast, based on tracks. In contrast 4,968 nests have been laid, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

About 1,000 feet of experimental seawalls have guarded millions of dollars worth of beachfront property on Isle of Palms since 2013. The walls are removable devices designed to break up the storm waves that cause the worst beach erosion but allow water and fine sand through.

The walls have helped keep high seas from sweeping into buildings, carports, pools and grounds at a series of beachfront condominiums and homes in the Wild Dunes resort on the east end of Isle of Palms. They also were installed in front of a set of homes on St. Helena Sound near Beaufort.

Environmental groups have opposed them, saying they exacerbate erosion and impede the nesting of sea turtles.

The walls are designed to be taken down between storms and extreme high-tide events but were kept in place as a trial while they were studied by engineers. They technically are not legal; state law prohibits sea walls in most cases. But state legislative action mandated they be allowed for the study.

DHEC staff last winter recommended not to allow them. In a turnabout move, the board overruled the staff to allow the walls so more study could take place — three months after putting the issue on hold while public comments were reviewed and a public hearing could take place.

Source (external link)