By Theresa Stratford for The Island Connection
The S.C. Supreme Court heard arguments for the fifth time on March 23 from several environmental groups, lawyers for Kiawah Development Partners and state officials about the future of Captain Sam’s Spit, a unique piece of land on Kiawah Island that is being eyed for the construction of 50 homes.
What was on the table this time? It was about the permitting that KDP is seeking from DHEC for infrastructure on the land. The permits would be for a steel seawall, stormwater management, utility lines and a road – infrastructure dire to supporting the homes slated for this 150-acre tear-dropped shaped isthmus.
Captain Sam’s Spit is surrounded by water on three sides. There’s water at the tip, on the east is the Atlantic Ocean and on the west is the Kiawah River. The edge adjacent to the river is eroding and the neck connecting the spit of land to Kiawah measures at only about 30-feet wide.
The proposed 2,300-foot long steel seawall would be erected to protect the land from further erosion, but would block the beach on the riverside from public use.
Currently, that side of the spit is regularly used by the public as beach access, to fish and for recreation in general. Amy Armstrong, an attorney for the Coastal Conservation League, who was at the March 23 court argument, said that the state holds title to public trust below the high water mark, which means that it is public property.
Armstrong said that this wall would eliminate the public trust and make that side of the spit inaccessible. KDP owns the property above the high water mark.
With the active erosion taking place, the steel wall would eventually completely block off the public use of the riverside beach and create about an 8-foot high seawall.
Armstrong also argued that Captain Sam’s Spit could eventually be underwater completely. She said that they know of three times in recorded history when that occurred – the most recent in 1949, which she said, “was not long ago.”
“It may be in the next 20 years or it could be in just five years,” she said. “Either way, we know it is a real possibility. It is a dynamic formation that changes in a cyclical pattern.”
Emily Cedzo, senior director of our Land, Water & Wildlife Program with the Coastal Conservation League, reiterated their stance.
“There are so few areas of the South Carolina shoreline that are not already encumbered by erosion or infrastructure. Captain Sam’s Spit is one such area that has remained a special recreational resource for Kiawah residents and visitors alike, in addition to serving as an important home for threatened wildlife.
A massive steel wall and utility infrastructure would have detrimental impacts on this resource that would absolutely diminish the public benefits it could provide to future generations.”
Rich Thomas lives on Kiawah Island and has been kayaking out to Captain Sam’s Spit for the entire 13 years that he has resided there. He said he has seen the area change over the years due to erosion and various storms.
He also said that on any given day, you could see many people out there fishing or just enjoying the beach.
He said they access it by boat and other watercraft.
“This wall would eliminate this public beach from being accessed,” he lamented.
KDP argued that developing the property would provide significant economic gain, such as tax dollars to the town, which, they said, outweighs the eventual loss of the riverside access to public citizens.
DHEC contended at the argument that their only job was to approve the infrastructure permit based on whether the development fit state policy.
Armstrong ended the argument saying, “It is time to put to rest the issue on whether public trust resources are going to be sacrificed for a private development and later eliminated.”
The S.C. Supreme Court will now have to decide if the challenged DHEC permit for infrastructure will be approved. It is not clear when a decision will be made.
The future development of Captain Sam’s Spit has been argued in and out of court since 2009.