South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Supreme Court rules against development on Kiawah barrier island
April 18th, 2018

by Jenny Peterson

Kiawah Island, S.C. (WCIV) — “Captain Sams Spit” on Kiawah Island is a pristine, uninhabited barrier island that provides a habitat for a variety of wildlife, accessible only by foot from Beachwalker Park.

A ruling today by the South Carolina Supreme Court intends to keep it that way.

Kiawah Development Partners has been eyeing Captain Sams Spit in order to build a 50-unit residential development on the property.

The group has gotten several permits from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to begin construction related to the residential development, according to permit documents.

The Coastal Conservation League has fought against each permit in court.

After wins and losses for each side over the past 10 years, the S.C. Supreme Court today “definitively denied” the construction of the largest proposed development for the spit—a 40-foot wide, 2,873-foot long erosion seawall.

The wall is necessary to build the residential development in order to protect it as well as a road leading to the spit from erosion.

The Coastal Conservation League is confident that today’s ruling will put the matter to bed and keep the barrier island undeveloped.

In 2014, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that coastal resources like the spit must be used to the maximum benefit of the public rather than solely benefiting a private developer, according to the Coastal Conservation League.

However, possible development stayed alive when a lower court authorized the entire seawall structure.

“Today’s ruling from the state’s highest court—denying a developer’s request to build a nearly half-mile long wall leading to Captain Sams Spit—is a win for our coast,” said Emily Cedzo, who works as the land, water and wildlife program director for The Coastal Conservation League. “The Court’s opinion serves a blow to irresponsible coastal development.”

The Coastal Conservation League was represented by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project.

Trenholm Walker, an attorney representing Kiawah Development Partners in this matter, did not immediately return an email seeking comment on today's ruling.

On Thursday, South Carolina state Rep. Mark Sanford released a statement in favor of the supreme court decision.

"A good part of what makes life so special in the Lowcountry is its open space and access to public space. As we continue to grow as a region, I think it's important that we not develop every inch in instances like these," the former governor stated. "As surely as Mother Nature can create shoreline, she can take it away, and taxpayers shouldn't be left to hold the tab as tides and shorelines ebb and flow on this front."

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