South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Road to develop embattled Capt. Sam’s Spit on Kiawah can proceed, SC judge says
September 25th, 2018

By Bo Petersen, Post & Courier

KIAWAH ISLAND – Six months after the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that a bulkhead and retaining wall couldn’t be built to develop Capt. Sam’s Spit, a lower court judge has ruled that a road can be built to the site.

Administrative Law Court Judge Ralph Anderson said the economic benefits of building homes on the narrow spit at the tip of the Kiawah Island resort outweigh its natural preservation.

“The evidence established that the economic benefit of developing the upland area to include real property tax revenues estimated at $5 million per year when the development is built out to fifty homes,” Anderson said in the ruling.

“Though significant, this economic benefit does not exclusively justify the loss of a portion of the riverbank; however, it is a factor that legally and factually cannot be ignored,” he said.

The South Carolina Environmental Law Project plans to file a motion to stay the court’s ruling and will appeal it, said attorney Amy Armstrong, with the project.

The project is representing the Coastal Conservation League in the case.

The ruling is the latest in more than a decade of legal wrangling over four different sets of permits that would allow development on Capt. Sam’s Spit, a 150-acre, teardrop-shaped sand strip along Capt. Sam’s Inlet between Kiawah and Seabrook islands.

The spit has been 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 the nearby Beachwalker Park run by Charleston County.

Located where the Kiawah River empties into the Atlantic Ocean, the spit has been a sought-after natural destination for years. Its flocks of shorebirds and dolphin feeding along its banks have drawn a growing number of onlookers since the high-profile dispute began.

Kiawah Development Partners want to build 50 homes there. 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.

Conservation groups and some island residents have opposed the development.

Like other inlet areas, Capt. Sam’s is continually reshaped by waves and wind.

The battle has focused on the narrow neck of the spit between the development site and the rest of Kiawah Island. The neck is eroding on the Kiawah River bank. Company representatives have maintained it is accreting, or gaining ground, on the ocean beach.

But recent storms have made inroads on the beach, as well.

“It’s clearly a vulnerable place, and (for the court decision) not to take that into consideration seems foolhardy,” Armstrong said. “It really is putting people and structures in harm’s way.”

A call to the company for comment was not returned. The company has declined to comment after recent court decisions.

In the April ruling, the S.C. Supreme Court said that a bulkhead and retaining wall can’t be built on the neck. The bulkhead and wall were designed to support the road across the neck along the eroding bank.

But a different set of permits governs whether the road can be built, and those are the permits that Anderson ruled on.

Anderson’s ruling, though, said that before road construction could be allowed, the state line must be redrawn that restricts how close to coastal waters construction can take place.

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