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Feb 03 2010

Captain Sam’s revetment a “shore” thing?

The neck of Captain Sam's Spit as viewed from the Kiawah River.

The neck of Captain Sam's Spit as viewed from the Kiawah River.

By Kristin Hackler

On Monday, January 25, 2010, Chief Administrative Law Judge Ralph King Anderson III overturned the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) ruling for a 2,783 foot long revetment along the neck of Captain Sam’s Spit.

The ruling followed a hearing wherein Kiawah Development Partners (KDP) contested DHEC’s ruling which limits the allowed length of the revetment to 270 feet, and the Coastal Conservation League’s (CCL) challenge that the entire revetment permit should be denied.

In his thirty page order, Judge Anderson lists step-by-step the arguments for and against the revetment’s construction, noting each of the CCL’s talking points and ultimately refuting them with evidence presented by KDP experts.

In particular, Judge Anderson found the evidence provided by KDP’s Dr. Kana, an expert in geology and geomorphology who has studied barrier islands – and in particular, Seabrook and Kiawah Islands – for the past thirty years, to be quite compelling. In fact, the judge stated that “his expertise was far more persuasive than of CCL’s expert, Dr. Young”.

Sidi Limehouse, president of the Friends of the Kiawah River, a local organization which backs the CCL’s efforts to block the building of a revetment at Captain Sam’s, argued several of the judge’s statements derived from Dr. Kana’s presentation. For example, Judge Anderson stated in his order that “None of the dune ridges [on Captain Sam’s] show any sign of storm water washover during the last 30 years, even when subjected to hurricane forces including hurricane Hugo in 1989.”

“If the judge knew anything about Hugo,” said Limehouse, “he would have known that because the eye of the storm hit to the north in McClellanville, the water was sucked out of Kiawah. It would have been a different story if Kiawah had been hit dead on.”

However, Judge Anderson pointed out that the Coastal Conservation League quoted mainly from a 34 year old document entitled “Environmental Inventory of Kiawah Island”. Anderson noted that “Dr. Kana argued that … parts of the inventory have not withstood the test of time, such as the fact that the east end of the island was described as being too unstable for future development. The east end of the island now houses the Osprey Beach community, as well as the Ocean Course where the 1991 Ryder Cup was held.”

Judge Anderson also called into question DHEC’s decision in not allowing the initial request for the 2,783 foot revetment, pointing out that DHEC’s denial stated that “The proposed revetment would facilitate a false sense of security and a perception of protection for prospective homebuyer’s on Captain Sam’s Spit”. This sort of speculation, according to the Judge, seemed to support KDP’s questioning of DHEC’s motives in this case.

In the end, Judge Anderson states that, while erosion along Kiawah River’s southern bank has become more pronounced over the years, the long term trend of erosion will most probably continue along the peninsula’s river bank. This, along with the fact that the setback line has remained static, making it so that the setback line, not the beach, determines the seaward limit of the buildable high ground, the court finds that KDP has a legitimate need for the bulkhead/revetment.

The allowed revetment structure would be 2,783 feet long by 40 feet wide and would cover 111,320 square feet of the banks of the river; or 2.63 acres. It would also be complied of ACB (articulated concrete blocks) which, according to the judge, “could be colored to blend in, and would have openings to allow for the growth of marsh grasses and other vegetation.”

The fight isn’t over yet, however. Amy Armstrong, a lawyer with the South Carolina Environmental Law Project and the CCL representative, feels that the CCL has several points which they can argue in the judge’s order, and feels that they have built a strong record for an appeal. “I think we have some solid legal bases for challenging his conclusions,” said Armstrong.

If you are interested in the future of Captain Sam’s Spit, the Kiawah-Seabrook Exchange Club will be hosting a discussion between representatives of the Kiawah Development Partners and the Coastal Conservation League during their monthly meeting on March 3, 2010 on Seabrook Island. Members and guests are invited and the cost of dinner is $30/person. For more information, call Mike Morris at 637-4929. Reservations must be made no later than Friday, February 26.

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