KIAWAH ISLAND - A South Carolina House bill proposing to ease restrictions on rebuilding seawalls is worrisome for conservationists in the Lowcountry. A seven-year delay proposed in the law is just as concerning.
Why? Capt. Sam's Spit.
The law would establish a new, permanent "base line" in the dunes beyond which no building can take place, but delays implementing it for seven years. The spit is the wildlife-rich, 150-acre teardrop of exposed land on Kiawah's western edge where the island's developers plan a 50-home community. The road to the development must cross a narrow neck of the spit. The new base line would be right down the crest of the dunes where the road is planned.
But the proposed seven-year delay is welcome news for Kiawah Development Partners, who opposed the new base line during a House committee meeting Thursday when the bill was approved. The road construction is tied up in court challenges; the proposed delay would at least give more time to build it.
The current bill is being sought by a small group of property owners in Debordieu, a Georgetown County beach community where a seawall protecting expensive homes there is failing and needs rebuilding.
The delay is one of two measures in the bill spurred by Lowcountry interests. The other measure would allow the use of wave dissipation devices - temporary, porous seawalls invented by a Mount Pleasant carpenter.
Environmentalists and community groups have fought for two years to stop the development project on Capt. Sam's Spit. On the far tidal flats of the spit, shorebirds flock sometimes by the thousands to feed. An embankment for the road would be built along a stretch of riverbank where dolphins regularly strand feed - driving schools of bait fish onto the beach and jumping after them to eat. The behavior is found almost nowhere else but the Southeast coast.
The developers say both the road and the homes can be built without significantly disrupting the environment.
The earlier South Carolina Senate version of the House bill was grudgingly supported by conservation interests as the best compromise they could expect to get.
"The obvious motivation behind this change to the legislation is to make it possible to develop Captain Sam's Spit," said Katie Zimmerman, Coastal Conservation League program director. "Nearly everyone in the state, if not the nation, understands the folly that would be developing Captain Sam's Spit, and the fact that we now have state legislation being tweaked to accommodate (it) is incredibly damaging to our natural and economic resources."
Kiawah Development Partners see it differently. The developers requested that the existing law remain in place, said Mike Touhill, public relations director, because that law moves the base line every 10 years, in response to the beach in front accreting, adding sand, or losing it to erosion. The line established in the new law would have been permanent and in place by July under the Senate version. Touhill said that is unreasonable.
"We see (the seven-year delay) as a fair and reasonable compromise," he said.
The wave dissipation device is designed to stop waves but not sand flow, ideally preventing erosion that other types of walls exacerbate.
The device recently was tested in the Wild Dunes resort on Isle of Palms and will undergo more tests. The bill would allow the wall to be used if it is approved.
The bill now goes the full House for a vote and, if approved, returns to the Senate.
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