South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Native residents hope to stop $100M resort in Beaufort Co. A decision may be delayed
February 27th, 2020

By Stephen Fastenau

On the cusp of a possible final decision on whether to build a $100 million resort on a Beaufort County barrier island, a local Gullah group is staking a claim in the fight.

Bay Point Island’s owners want to partner with Six Senses Resorts Hotels Spas to build villas and other amenities on about 50 acres of the island at the mouth of the Port Royal Sound.

The project was to be heard Thursday by the Beaufort County Zoning Board of Appeals after county planners determined the resort proposal didn’t meet zoning rules as ecotourism. A Bay Point representative told county staff Wednesday the group plans to ask to delay the vote until the zoning board meets in March, county planning director Eric Greenway said.

Meanwhile, the S.C. Environmental Law Project has filed a motion on behalf of the Gullah-Geechee Fishing Association to intervene in the proceeding.

The claim says the organization has an interest in the property, that the outcome could affect the ability of the descendants of formerly enslaved Africans and other black fishermen in the St. Helena Island community to harvest and enjoy the sea life around Bay Point, as has been done for generations. Planned boat ferries to and from the resort would hurt the fish population, and access to fishing grounds would be diminished, the document said.

“The citizens of the Gullah/Geechee Nation live in balance with the environment and have done so in this area since the 1500s,” said Marquetta Goodwine, a St. Helena resident and officer in the fishing association in a statement. The proposed development at Bay Point near the Land’s End area of St. Helena Island “is incompatible with the Gullah/Geechee way of life and the ecological balance” to the area, which is highly susceptible to erosion, said Goodwine, who goes by the title Queen Quet of the Gullah Geechee Nation.

The zoning board could consider the intervention filing before a vote on the Bay Point appeal. An attorney for the environmental group that submitted the motion said the move allows the organization to better fend off the proposed development, and that state law allows for such a claim.

“It was essentially trying to get involved as early as possible to ensure there was protection in place for the Gullah Geechee rights that are at stake,” S.C. Environmental Law Project attorney Jessie White said. “Should the decision be overturned or modified and the proposal goes forward, those rights will be directly impacted.”

Bay Point is a 347-acre island off St. Helena that is largely vacant except for a beach cottage with no utilities. A proposal to build dozens of villas and other buildings on the island as an eco-friendly resort was rejected by county staff at the end of last year as not fitting zoning definitions for ecotourism, and the decision was upheld last month.

Development representatives touted the reputation of Six Senses as an environmental steward and produced endorsements from the International Ecotourism Society and other purported experts that the proposal was consistent with ecotourism.

The developers have appealed to the zoning board.

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