South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Sand battle won't blow over
July 13th, 2007

By Bo Petersen (Contact) The Post and Courier

ISLE OF PALMS — The Wild Dunes sandbag fiasco just sank a little deeper. The S.C. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that an island resident has the right to appeal a state permit that allows moving sand from public to private areas.

That takes the five-year-old case that led to the mess back to the courts for hearing. With high tides lapping at the resort's eroded oceanfront golf course and six condominium complexes, it could be months or more before any other beach renourishment plan clears regulatory and legal hurdles.

The properties now are protected by a wall of sandbags, which are being shredded by tides.

Jim Smiley, who lives just outside the private resort's gate, appealed a state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resources Management permit that would have allowed the Wild Dunes Community Association to scrape sand from the beach each month to rebuild dunes for its beachfront property owners.

Smiley said recently he simply didn't want to see 25,000 cubic yards of sand per month scraped from the public beach a foot and a half deep to build dunes on private property. OCRM attorneys argued that as a resident Smiley had no "standing," no grounds to appeal. Smiley lost two earlier court rounds before the Monday ruling.

"Thank goodness," said attorney Jimmy Chandler, whose South Carolina Environmental Law Project took over the case pro bono after Smiley lost earlier legal rounds.

"It basically keeps the courthouse door open for citizens who want to protect the public's interest. We're back at square one now."

Attorneys for OCRM would not comment because the case is still under litigation, said Thom Berry, spokesman for the S.C. Health and Environmental Control.

The ruling bolsters other residents who say they will appeal if the state issues a permit to dredge from Dewees Inlet at the tip of the resort. Beachfront resort property owners want to take sand from a spit that has formed near Cedar Creek, and property owners who use the spit as a beach are ready to sue to stop them.

The only other solution, dredging sand from offshore, has a rule-of-thumb cost of $1 million per mile for each year between renourishment projects.

Chandler couldn't say immediately what impact the ruling might have on the overall Wild Dunes situation.

He has been in ongoing meetings with OCRM and property officials. "I was always sure we would eventually prevail," Smiley said Monday by e-mail.

"Without this decision, citizens would have lost their ability to contest virtually all (state) permitting decisions."

Reach Bo Petersen at 745-5852 or bpetersen@postandcourier.com.

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