By Theresa Stratford for The Island Connection
As tourism increased on the Sea Islands in 2021 and future plans for development took shape, this past year was busy, yet successful. As they eased out of COVID, both towns experienced significant change. Here is a lookback at some of the more pertinent occurrences on Seabrook from 2021.
Former town council member Skip Crane resigns
Council Member Skip Crane resigned from his position on Seabrook Island Town Council at the beginning of May in 2021. During the Ways & Means Committee Meeting, held on April 13, Seabrook Island Mayor John Gregg asked Town Council if they would prefer to hold a special election to fill the void, or continue with the Council vacancy until swearing in following the next general election, which was held on Nov. 2. The Town Council members voted to leave the seat vacant.
The Fourth of July firework show went on
“Proceed with caution” was the theme for the Fourth of July firework display, which was held on July 3 at the Seabrook Island Beach Club. At the Seabrook Island Town Council meeting on April 27, Mayor John Gregg reiterated what the Ways and Means Committee discussed on April 13. The Public Safety Committee also addressed the event at their meeting on April 12. Since the firework vendor had to be given notice about proceeding with the event by April 15 due to needing to order the supply, Ways and Means made the decision to move forward with the event.
Red knots stopped at Seabrook during long journey home
At the Seabrook Island Town Council Meeting on May 25, Council Member Jeri Finke reported on a special shorebird counting research project that wrapped up in June with SCDNR and the Senner Lab at the University of South Carolina. There were two students – Maggie Pelton and Sara Padula – studying these shorebirds at Seabrook Island since February of this year. Wildlife Biologist Janet Thibault with SCDNR explained that the students were specifically focused on the red knot. Amazingly, these birds use some of South Carolina’s coast as a layover in their 9,000-mile journey from the bottom of South America to the Arctic, where they will nest.
Shark attack on Seabrook Island
At the June 22 Town Council Meeting, Seabrook Island Town Administrator Joe Cronin recounted a shark bite incident from June 6 at approximately 8 p.m. Beach patrol reported that the victim was a teenage girl who was taken to the hospital via an ambulance. Since the incident happened right at 8 p.m. when beach patrol ended for the day, there weren’t any officers on duty except for one officer who hadn’t left yet was able to dispatch to the scene. The officer was alerted by County Public Safety since people on the scene of the incident called 911. Cronin reported that the injury suffered by the young girl was consistent with a shark bite.
Katharine Watkins hired as new town clerk, treasurer
The Town of Seabrook Island hired Katherine Watkins as the new town clerk/treasurer upon the retirement of Faye Allbritton in July, who served as town clerk/treasurer for the past 25 years. Watkins was hired to provide accounting, clerical and secretarial services to the mayor and town council. She also serves as the municipal clerk for all the regular, special and emergency town council meetings.
In her role, Watkins is the town’s chief archivist and will be the main point of contact for all requests submitted under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act. As town clerk/treasurer she also assists the municipal judge as the town’s clerk of court.
Concealed weapons prohibited on town property
In response to the new state law that went into effect on Aug. 15 called the Open Carry with Training Act, Seabrook Island Town Council unanimously approved a resolution to prohibit the carrying of concealable weapons on town property and while using any machinery, vehicle or equipment owned or leased by the Town. This resolution was adopted at the Town Council meeting on September 28. Joe Cronin stated, “It is our request that Town Council approve this resolution to prohibit concealed weapons in the Town of Seabrook Island.”
The debate over short-term rentals
Involved residents and property owners voiced their concerns both for and against a cap on short-term rentals for Seabrook Island at the Oct. 26 Seabrook Island Town Council meeting. A petition that prompted this public discussion was entitled “Preserve Seabrook: It’s Our Home,” which was intended to provide a basis for placement of a non-binding, advisory referendum on the November 2021 Election Ballot asking voters whether or not short-term rental percentage caps are required island-wide and in single-family home residential areas. There were more than 450 signatures on the petition from Seabrook Island registered voters. Unfortunately, the petition was not added to the upcoming election ballot due to the fact that it was not submitted 45 days prior to the election like the state law requires.
Mayor John Gregg said that because of the untimeliness of receiving the petition, the request to place it on the ballot was “denied.”
2021 Seabrook municipal election results
The unofficial results of the Seabrook Island municipal election held on Nov. 2 came in. Mayor John Gregg remained as mayor for another two years as he ran uncontested. Leon Vancini remained on the utility commission as he ran uncontested as well. His term is for six years. All Town Council incumbents were reelected, including Council Members Barry Goldstein, Jeri Finke and Patricia Fox. The fourth seat, which came open in May of 2021 when former Council Member Skip Crane resigned, was filled by Dan Kortvelesy. These four candidates beat out Sharon Welch.
Seabrook pitched in for Toys for Tots donations
For over 20 years, the Town of Seabrook Island has supported the holiday charity called the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. This annual tradition for the town was spearheaded in the early 2000s by former Town Councilmember Bob Ferguson and former Town Administrator Randy Pierce – both served in the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation is a nation-wide non-profit that began in 1991 at the behest of the U.S. Marine Corps. The goal of the charity is simple: to bring the joy of Christmas to America’s less fortunate children. The Seabrook Island toy drive began on November 29 and commenced at the annual Seabrook Island Town Christmas party on December 9. The toy drop-off site was located inside Town Hall.
Special election denied vote on short term rentals
The hot topic of a potential cap on short-term rentals was addressed again at the Nov. 16 Seabrook Island Town Council meeting. This time, it was in response to a proposed special election by a resident to be held in February 2022 which would allow residents to vote on a referendum concerning short-term rentals. Seabrook Island resident and member of the Preserve Seabrook group, Ted Flerlage, started the Council meeting with a presentation in favor of a cap on short-term rentals. He said, “Preserve Seabrook is not attempting to end shortterm rentals. We see the need to limit the number of short-term rentals to preserve the quiet enjoyment of our homes.” The request for a special election was denied by Council in a majority vote by the mayor, Finke and Fox.
Councilmember Barry Goldstein abstained from voting.