Kiawah Development Partners adamant about plan that would destroy valuable wildlife and recreation area on Kiawah Spit

When it appeared to Kiawah Development Partners that their efforts to put a concrete bulkhead on top of almost of 3 acres of public trust tidelands on the back side of Captain Sams Spit would fail, they applied for another bulkhead permit. The second “delayed bulkhead permit” would allow a 340-ft long steel sheet pile just inland from the water. The state should have denied this second permit for the same reasons it denied the first one, because it would damage an important area used by wildlife and interfere with the natural inlet migration. The strategy here is to avoid the more protective coastal regulations by avoiding the public trust tidelands and letting the water come to their bulkhead, which it would do in a year or two, based on the current erosion rates. They could destroy the public trust land because of a loophole in the law. The developer’s suit against the state for $100 million may be having the chilling effect they desired by making the state leery of enforcing its own regulations rather than spending all of its time and limited financial resources in court fighting a very wealthy developer with the best and most well-connected attorneys that money can buy.

In the above animation of diagrams used with permission by Miles O. Hayes, it is clear that this piece of land is not fit for home construction. During it’s over 300 years of recorded history, it has separated from Kiawah Island several times, and nearly disappeared, only to be revived from sand collected by shore currents, constantly shifting along the barrier island coastal system.

Mary Edna Fraser said, “This plan by the Kiawah Development Partners (KDP) to develop Captain Sams Spit will hurt endangered and threatened species including loggerhead sea turtles, diamond back terrapins, and piping plovers. It is unbelievable how they are planning to trash this important recreational area used by kayakers, beachwalkers, and bottlenose dolphins by building a huge concrete block bulkhead for 1/2 mile on the beach are along the Kiawah River. It makes me wonder how they can continue to call themselves environmentally friendly developers or continue to tout Kiawah as an environmentally sensitive development while they are destroying this important haven for wildlife.”

Nancy Vinson, Program Director at Coastal Conservation League said, “Kiawah was the island that did it right. By designing their development with nature and putting homes on the most stable parts of the island and not the highly mobile ends, they have had enjoyed continued high property values and have avoided the serious erosional problems suffered by many all the other islands nearby. But now, all that is changing. The developers are ignoring their good master plan which said NO development on the highly mobile Captain Sams Spit, and are planning to put homes in harms way on the highly mobile and most enviornmentally sensitive part of the island. They are doing this over the objections of the state and federal agencies who job is to protect threatened and endangered species — the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the SC Department of Natural Resources. ”

Peter, webmaster for Friends of the Kiawah River said “Many of you have asked how DHEC could have approved the Sheet Pile Project after denying the Bulkhead/Revetment. They are allowing KDP to drive metal piling 30 feet into the ground for a distance of 340 feet at the narrow portion of the Spit. They ignored all but two people at the Public Hearing. They ignored your 72 letters. They ignored two major public departments.”

Rick Reed, resident of Sullivan’s Island, was awarded the “September Golden Pen” for his Letter to the Editor at the Post & Courier, Protect barrier island system. He states, “The impact of tunnel vision at any part of the barrier island system that protects 85 percent of our East Coast is not just a waste of money, trying to wrestle with nature. As Brian points out, it is artificially modifying the environment (Kiawah) which will impact neighbors ‘downstream’ (Seabrook Island).”

The Coastal Conservation League gives a history of this battle and a call to action:

Kiawah Development Partners (KDP) is proposing to build a ½-mile long concrete bulkhead and 50 houses on the sandy inlet at the southern end of Kiawah on Captain Sams Spit. This sandy spit of land is highly mobile. The piping plover, diamondback terrapin, and bottlenose dolphins (among others) rely on this area for nesting or feeding.

In 2008, legislation was introduced to Congress that would have removed federal protections from this spit of land. Thanks to the immediate response of hundreds of Conservation League members and activists, the bill was withdrawn and the spit will remain in the Coastal Barrier Resources System. This federal law identifies naturally sensitive or erosional coastal areas and discourages their development by prohibiting federal subsidies in the form of federal flood insurance and hurricane relief.

Unfortunately, this victory has not prevented developers from moving forward with their plan to build on this volatile spit of land. In an effort to stabilize the sand spit enough to build a road, the developers sought a permit to construct a 2,783-foot concrete bulkhead on public trust tidelands which would impede the public’s use and enjoyment of this area. The state only permitted 270 feet of the bulkhead along the parking lot at Beachwalker Park.

We recently spent five days at trial, represented by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP), to ensure that the developer does not overturn the state’s denial of the long concrete bulkhead. The developer also filing a takings claim against South Carolina for denying this structure proposed on public tidelands.

In late October 2009, KDP was given permission for a 340-foot sheet pile wall that will be buried in the sand just inland of the river and act as an erosion control device when the river reaches it, to protect a possible future road and associated utilities for future development on the spit. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the SC Department of Natural Resources requested denial of this permit because of threatened and endangered species. CCL is appealing this permit decision because of impacts to the wildlife and natural inlet migration.

Friends of the Kiawah is a citizens group formed to protect the river and Captain Sams Spit. Visit their website for additional details. We will stay involved to ensure no settlement is reached that would allow the large damaging bulkhead.

How would it affect South Carolina?
Allowance of the erosion control structure along the highly mobile Captain Sams Spit affects pristine habitat for threatened and native species of South Carolina. It also effectively takes the rights of South Carolina citizens by building in public trust tidelands for private use.

What can you do about it?
You can donate towards legal costs for this specific issue by visiting our donation page and designating your contribution for “Kiawah River.”

Or sign up to be a CCL activist, and sign up to receive the most up-to-date information from Friends of the Kiawah River.

The ecology of the inlet is left intact, and the land is still available for public use and enjoyment.  We lose pristine habitat for valued and unique species and we lose public tidelands for citizen enjoyment.

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