By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
Seabrook residents exercised their right to remain silent during a public hearing scheduled 5 minutes prior to the 2:30 start of the Oct. 24 town council meeting. There were no comments on either of two ordinances. The first was the budget for 2018, and the second was a measure authorizing the transfer of three more parcels to the Greenspace Conservancy. Quiet-time was punctuated with side conversation and ended with the mayor’s gaveling the regular council meeting to order.
Two sets of minutes were approved without modification, and the financial report for the month of September followed. Revenues were under projections by a little more than $9,000 for the month, which the mayor attributed to a timing issue receiving local option sales taxes. However, Seabrook remains over $94,000 ahead of projections for the year and is still beating numbers for the same time last year. The good news included expenses being under projections by $62,000 for September, and under annual estimates by $.5 million. Those numbers came with the now customary caveat; some of the difference is attributable to the encumbered pace of renovations along Seabrook Island Rd. and will be spent.
“For the record,” interjected the mayor, who then took the step of confirming required meeting notifications had been filed in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. Clerk Faye Allbritton was quick to confirm they had, to appreciative chuckles.
Council member John Gregg opened with a report on the club’s long range planning committee, saying the body met Oct. 12. They decided to establish a study of dining habits on the island, and to meet again on Nov. 9, when the added subject of flooding will be breached. Gregg said speculation that years of flooding could have gummed up the drainage system has grown, and the committee will float recommendations for a solution.
Public Safety met Oct. 16, said Gregg, with the objective of making revisions to the town’s comprehensive plan in Irma’s wake. September’s after-action report was front and center of a discussion headed by consultant Scott Cave. Public response to the report was “subdued,” said Gregg, who feels this is an important means to send feedback [available at town hall] to the island’s organizations. Perhaps the most conspicuous take away was the focus on making assignments for action within the group.
The items identified as issues from the after Irma action report will be discussed at the next meeting of public safety scheduled for Monday, Nov. 13. Gregg said the discussions will yield a list, and solutions will be proffered in conjunction with the disaster recovery team, which is expected to meet before the end of the year. Those solutions will then be tested during an exercise to be held in early January that will target hurricane preparation.
He then moved to accept renewal of the town’s contract with AirMedCare. The emergency helicopter transportation provider provides evacuation service to municipalities at dramatically reduced fees to residents (costs limited to whatever insurance will pay or the Medicare allowed amount for all others). The agreement will run for the calendar year 2018 at a cost of $9,269 and allows residents the option of personal policies for transport when outside the immediate area. The motion was approved unanimously.
Jody Turner took the reins and said an ordinance mandating residents stay within 30 feet of any fishing poles they were using on the beach was being drafted. He then informed everyone of a very disturbing letter from Cheryl S. Munday, a Marine Mammal Outreach Specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which produced alarm from members of his environmental committee.
The letter requests SITC’s help protecting strand feeding dolphins on Seabrook beaches. The nature center on Seabrook once claimed the pod frequenting their shores was one of only five on the planet to exhibit this technique. Bottlenose dolphins corral bait fish into the shallows, force the fish onto the beach and then “strand” themselves on shore to feed.
Witnesses to the behavior describe it in terms suggesting nothing short of an epiphany. Sadly it can easily be disrupted. Munday’s letter included a YouTube link from Seabrook  with one particularly appalling example.
According to Munday, the video shows one person pouncing the “stranded” dolphins, quickly followed by another person trying to hand feed them (youtube.com/watch?v=Px0NJOUEFBI). This is not only against the law, but is also contrary to a new program being launched by NOAA. The Dolphin Conservation Education Program was spawned by rare enforcement of the prohibitions. Her letter asks Seabrook to consider having volunteers on the beach during peak feeding times to both educate onlookers, and prevent disasters like the one caught on film. SITC will task beach patrol with the duty.
Councilmember John Wells said the effort to renovate Seabrook Island Parkway has been realigned with expectations, and the project is now proceeding in a more predictable fashion. Regulatory hurdles are being cleared, and the town will entertain bids on a request for proposal for the project in early November. A selection will be made in December, and the actual work will begin next year, Wells told council. He ended with assurances that use of any drones on the road project would be restricted to that exclusive use.
Jim Bannwart delivered the summary of SIU’s September activity. He said operations were normal, but at a $29,000 loss for the month. Additional equipment rented because of Irma accounted for the blurred margin. He said SIU had submitted their budget to the town and said it looked a lot like its predecessor. SIU plans to have four backup generators available as needed for future storms, he added. He closed by saying SIU was looking into the possibility of online bill payments as an option for residents.
Old business consisted of the same two ordinances from the public hearing held prior to the council meeting. The mayor said the only change in the budget (ordinance 2017-03) was money transferred out of the beach patrol bucket of the ledger. The $30,000 difference would be paid for from state accommodations tax funds (SATX), said the mayor. He heaped praise on Faye Allbritton for finding, chasing down, and securing $70,000 of SATX money paid in error to the state when it should have come to Seabrook. The mayor said they had been aggressive on expenses but cautioned the budget included some paint, repairs to the conference room, and hiring a third person to help in the office three days each week.
Ordinance 2017-04 also passed unanimously, and transferred 2944 Captain Sams Rd., 2606 Seabrook Island Rd., and 2445 Seabrook Island Rd. to the Greenspace Conservancy.
Agenda item miscellaneous business had an entry this month. Ordinance 2017-05 authorized the town to execute an intergovernmental agreement with the Charleston County department of public works. The arrangement says the county will provide the first $5,000 of basic services with charge to the town. Work/costs beyond that amount would be paid on a prorated basis. “Special Services,” could also be provided, say county officials, but would have to be submitted and negotiated.
Seabrook resident and Seabrook Island Property Owners Association board member Phil Squire asked if SITC would be officially commenting on the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s new baseline designed to control coastal development. The road in front of the Island House was now behind the line, Squire pointed out. He was concerned about the added layer of bureaucracy if permits were needed to rebuild an existing road.
Seabrook resident Allison Blakey asked several questions. She was told AirMedCare had not responded to any incidents on Seabrook, and that beach patrol was being compensated for any added responsibilities (e.g. NOAA’s dolphin patrol). She also reported a “rotten egg” smell to her water. SIU commissioner Jim Bannwart said [harmless] algae could account for it, but asked for an address so he could inspect it for himself.
The meeting was adjourned and a cake was brought in. Jody Turner had a recent birthday, and decided against running for re-election making this his last meeting as a member of SITC. Turner has been on council for four years, and served another three as a member of the SIPOA board. He told The Island Connection in an email, “It’s time to start thinking of moving closer to the grandkids (Alexandria, VA).
“I ran originally because I wanted to help establish reasonable rules for the beach that balanced the interests of beach goers, dog owners, and wildlife, and I didn’t think the relationship between Seabrook and state and federal agencies needed to be antagonistic. I think we’ve accomplished that. In addition, I wanted to understand and be part of the disaster planning and recovery efforts. In fact, this last experience with Irma was very significant for me. We were evacuated and operated together as a group. We were under stress and pressure, but there was no doubt we were doing things that were important and needed to be done.”
We wish him well.