BY CHARLES P. DARBY III
Recently, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a ruling affirming a permit to build a revetment at the western end of Kiawah Island, on the river side of land known as Captain Sam’s Spit. Since then, much misinformation has been reported and disseminated in the community.
Despite the repeated mischaracterization of Captain Sam’s Spit as a fragile and continually eroding land mass, South Carolina’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management testified in court that there has been no significant erosion of the beach at Captain Sam’s in the past 50 years.
Instead, the beach is actually growing seaward at a rate of 12 feet per year. This accretion, combined with the fact that there are at least four and as many as eight ridges of dunes, of which some are 15 feet in elevation, makes Captain Sam’s beach one of the healthiest in South Carolina, the remainder of Kiawah Island included.
Further to that, the short access isthmus to Captain Sam’s is more than 300 feet wide — significantly wider than the causeways to Sullivan’s Island, Kiawah Island and most other barrier islands in the state.
Lastly, neither Hurricane Hugo, Hurricane Floyd nor any other storm in the past 30 years resulted in the over wash of even the most seaward dune ridge of Captain Sam’s, much less the access isthmus.
The only erosion has been along a portion of the river bank that would be stabilized by the revetment.
This stable and growing tract of land is suitable for a limited residential development in which only 20 of 170 acres will be developed. That translates to 88 percent, or 150 acres, to remain undisturbed and protected in perpetuity by a conservation easement.
This limited highland development will be more than half a mile from the inlet mud flats that are part of the designated habitat for wintering piping plovers and will adhere to Kiawah’s stringent beach setback requirements.
Notwithstanding opponents’ claim that a revetment and limited residential development will harm dolphins, they were unable to produce any supporting testimony by a marine biologist during the court proceedings.
Because of its overriding concern for sensitive environmental development, Kiawah Partners is recognized as an award-winning community developer that has complied with more than 500 permits from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control as well as the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management without a single violation.
In addition, during the development of Kiawah Island, Kiawah Partners has deeded over 150 acres of highland as conservation easements to preserve the sensitive environmental nature of the island and its surrounding natural habitats including the largest monetary easement in the United States at that time (Little Bear Island).
But perhaps the most important misconception regarding Captain Sam’s is the future of Beachwalker Park and the public’s access to the beach. Reports that the park is in jeopardy or its fate hinges on the proposed access road are unequivocally false.
Charleston County currently enjoys a 99-year lease, which runs through 2075, and Charleston County Parks and Recreation Executive Director Tom O’Rourke testified in favor of the erosion control revetment and supported installing it on the riverbank adjacent to Beachwalker Park.
Had the full permit been issued when it was requested five years ago, parking spaces would not have been lost and much of the current erosion would not have occurred.
The access road for Captain Sam’s will run parallel to, not through, the existing Beachwalker Park parking lot. The road will only cross at the boardwalk, in much the same way that more than a hundred leisure trails and golf-cart paths cross roads throughout Kiawah Island.
In his ruling in the revetment case, Judge Anderson of the South Carolina Administrative Law Court fully considered all the evidence presented and found there will be no significant adverse effects to Captain Sam’s from either the revetment or residential development.
Kiawah Partners believes stopping the unnecessary riverside erosion and a limited, environmentally sensitive residential development on private land will best serve the many and varied interests of the Kiawah community.
Charles P. “Buddy” Darby III is chief executive officer of Kiawah Partners.