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Dec 19 2012

Kiawah Town Council – December 4, 2012

Mayor Pro-Tem Lipuma called the meeting to order and notified those in attendance that Mayor Orban is home and recovering from surgery. Doctors expect a recovery period of six to eight weeks. “We are pleased that the surgery was successful. Pray for a quick recovery,” Lipuma said.

Fires on Kiawah

St Johns Fire Chief Karl Ristow addressed Council regarding two recent fires on the island. Both fires occurred in the early morning hours and seemed to break out from outdoor fire pits. In the case of the first fire, the caller heard crackling and smelled smoke prompting him to call 911. Units were notified and on the scene in less than four minutes. “Initial reports for the fire look as though the fireplace may have been installed incorrectly,” Ristow explained. The caller gave responders the wrong address, but because it was dark outside, it was easy to see the location. “In fire department terms, this was a grand success,” Ristow added. Because of interior damage, however, the house will be torn down and rebuilt.

The second call came in about an hour and 15 minutes later and probably resulted from an outdoor fire pit as well. Units were filling the empty station while responders were out with the first fire, so they were able to answer the call. Firefighters arrived in less than seven minutes. In this case, 15 – 16 people were renting the house and again gave responders the wrong address. Fortunately, it was still dark so the blaze was in sight. “We need to make sure everyone knows there address and we need to get that out to the public better,” Ristow said. The blaze was extinguished and all three stories were left standing, but the house will probably be torn down. “Both fireplaces have had tons of fires,” Ristow added. “They have been lucky.”

For public information, Ristow commented on the importance of knowing your address as well as installing smoke detectors, especially in rental units.

Invasive Plant Study

Joel Gramling, PhD, presented his findings from the Vegetation Survey of Kiawah Island that he has been conducting for the last year and a half. The study began in the summer of 2011 with a broad study of the flora and fauna on Kiawah Island, as well as the specific invasive species. Prior surveys have been completed in 1975 and 1998.

Gramling reported that there has been a 30 percent increase in the observed plants since the last study, and no significant rare species.

  • What invasive species threaten Kiawah?

Gramling sited four major invasive species on the island: the Chinese Tallow Tree, bamboo, Japanese Privet, and the Periwinkle vine. The Tallow tree is the most common invasive on Kiawah, and is particularly dense on the middle and eastern end of the island. Gramling commented that the occurrence of other invasives “pale in comparison to the Tallow tree.”

  • Why is the Tallow tree a threat?

First, the tree has no predators or native diseases. It has a prolific seed production, producing on average 100,000 seeds per year that are spread by birds and water. The tree grows and matures quickly, within three years. It has the ability to alter natural wetlands, changing the local ecology by sequestering water from other wetlands, depositing extra debris, and outcompeting native species.

  • What can be done?

Gramling said that first, the Town should prioritize the problem species. “There is the Tallow tree first, and then everything else,” he said. The three other invasive species should be dealt with, but they are not a major priority at this point. He suggested invasive plant management, by removing mature trees to stop spreading and treating seedlings and saplings. Dewees Island also had a problem with Tallow trees in 2009. 52 out of 150 lots were treated. In 2011, an additional 88 lots were treated. By 2012, the number of Tallow trees was reduced from 1,025 to 58. 94 percent of mature trees were successfully killed, and most were only treated one time. Before treatment, Dewees had an average of 37.4 trees per acre, which was reduced to 2.1 after the treatment. Along with invasive plant management, Gramling talked about the importance of education. “This requires everyone to work together,” he explained. “We need to be communicating what the payoff is and making it very clear up front what the goals are.” He also added the importance of having a long-term perspective. “We need to let everyone know why this is important, and what happens if we don’t address it. Tallow tree removal can be done, but it is not going to be done in one season,” he said.

  • Is there an alternative?

If no treatment is done, the Tallow tree invasion will result in altered ecosystems, loss of nesting and roosting habitats, loss of watering holes for mammals, and a loss of amphibian species. “If we ignore it, it will get worse,” Gramling added. On Kiawah, the current Tallow tree count per acre is 26.9 mature trees. In two years, if left untreated, this will rise to 34.1.

  • Cost of treatment?

Gramling was unsure of the exact cost to run a treatment program. Dewees Island treatment ran around $20,000. “In some ways I can see it being more, and in some I can see it being less,” he said. Estimates run anywhere from $115 per acre to $700 per acre, and those numbers will be pinned down once specialists are on the ground.

Gramling’s full report and presentation is available online at the Town website.

Old Business

Council unanimously approved a second reading of Ordinance 2012-7 regarding the state mandated amendments to business licenses.

Parking Agreement

Council unanimously approved to renew the Overflow Parking Lot Lease Agreement with Kiawah Development Partners at $1 a year.

Candidates for New St. Johns Fire Commissioners

Since the approval of two additional fire commissioners from Kiawah, the County requested applicants for the position be received by December 3. The Town recommend two residents, John Olson and Craig Weaver, be placed on the commission. The two recommendations will first need to be approved by the County and then the Governor before joining the commission.

Committee Reports

Councilman Vanderwerker commented that the Environmental Committee met and received a letter from the Department of Health approving the Beach Management Plan that was submitted. The plan is now effective and will need reviewing again in five years. “I would like to thank the Environmental Committee for all of their hard work,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Lipuma reported on behalf of the Arts Council that jazz performer Clay Ross played at the Seabrook Island House and on December 2, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra strings, brass, and woodwinds performed at Holy Spirit Catholic Church with over 800 people in attendance. “It was wonderful,” he said. Several Arts Council events are coming up in January: Classical Pianist Thomas Pandolfi on the 6, David Holt and the Lightening Bolts on the 11, the Tommy Grill Jazz Trio on the 17, along with two films on Friday afternoons (18 and 25). For more information, visit

Councilman Burnaford reported that Charleston County would be meeting to hear a presentation by Mayor Riley on why the City should take control of I-526. There would be no vote at the meeting. Burnaford also commented that the Fire Committee is still in the process of looking at a stand-alone district for Kiawah. Several members are unavailable to meet in December due to travels or injuries, so the process has been stretched out a little longer. The committee hopes to make a viable recommendation to Council soon.

Town Administrator’s Report

Administrator Rucker reported that the Town is completing the application for Municipal Associations Achievement Award. The Town also participated in “Families Helping Families” outreach effort during the holidays for families in need. Kiawah supported a family of four and their mother. “It’s a great gesture on behalf of the Town,” she said. Lastly, she thanked and congratulated Juan Martin and Ken Gunnells for five years of service with the Town.

Mayor’s Report

Lipuma informed those in attendance that this would be Burnaford’s last meeting of Town Council. “Al has served on Council for eight years and I can understand why he might be looking to retire,” Lipuma said. Before Council, Burnaford served on the planning commission. “I can comment personally that participating and spending time and energy on a Council requires a special dedication. Al has clearly devoted time and energy and has done a super job.”

Council Comments

Councilman Burnaford humorously thanked everyone for “putting up with him for eight years.” He commented that serving on committees and Council is something that more people should do. “This is a beautiful place and a real paradise,” he said. “As we get bigger, we need more and more volunteers. It is very important that we manage this island ourselves.”

Councilman Vanderwerker thanked Burnaford for his service and echoed his call for assistance. “There is a lot to be done,” he said. He also wished everyone a happy holiday.

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