KIAWAH ISLAND — No sooner than the sand berm went up to stop the Kiawah River, it came down. Now a bulldozer and a dump truck lie in the inlet off embattled Capt. Sam’s Spit.
The berm is designed to block the river where it empties into the ocean. It’s part of a recutting of the inlet by R.E. Goodson out of Darlington for the property owners association of neighboring Seabrook Island. It collapsed on Thursday to a surging tide a half-foot above normal.
“The tide came in higher than they expected and it washed out,” U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Chris Ruleman said Friday. An environmental cleanup company has been hired by Goodson to remove fuel, hydraulic fluid and other pollutants. Ruleman couldn’t say when the equipment might be able to be moved.
“We’re continuing to investigate and keep an eye on it. We haven’t seen any sign of (oil product) sheening on the water so far,” Ruleman said. S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control staff also were on the scene Friday, a spokeswoman said.
A mariner’s warning is being broadcast because the equipment is too far under to be easily seen at high tide. Seabrook Island Town Administrator Randy Pierce said he drove out Friday morning and couldn’t see anything. A call to the Goodson company was answered by an office worker, who said she would contact a company official for comment. But no return call was received by deadline.
People who oppose a planned development on the spit were quick to point out that the mishap shows just how fragile the environment is.
“As they put more bulldozers on that (spit) this is what we can expect. It’s a problem for everybody,” said Anthony Noury of SeaTow Charleston.
“Whether it’s beach engineering or offshore exploration and drilling, accidents are unavoidable, and the results can be catastrophic,” said Dana Beach of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League. “We have been lulled into a false and dangerous sense of complacency by the folks promoting these projects.”
The mishap occurred as Goodson workers recut the inlet through the Capt. Sam’s Spit beach for the third time in 30 years. The recut is a patchwork repair job to prevent erosion on the island. It’s considered so important to Seabrook Island real estate that it is called for in the management plan.
Heavy duty equipment has been piling sand in two long, intersecting berms that look like runways, and along the berm coming in from the sea have opened a new channel. The collapse occurred along the second berm, being piled across the current inlet to block flow, shifting it to the channel.
As the work takes place, the Kiawah Partners development company and environmentalists battle over the spit, a wildlife-rich, 150-acre sand strip between the islands. The developers plan to build 50 homes on high ground, and an access road across the narrow neck of the teardrop-shaped spit.
The spit is prized for conservation and recreation because its cape beach is a feeding ground that, at times, draws seabirds by the thousands. Its inlet beaches are part of a rare strand-feeding ground, where dolphins drive schools of baitfish onto the beach and jump up after them to feed.
Like other inlet areas, it is continually reshaped by waves and wind, eroding and accreting. Development company spokespeople have said both the road and development be built safely and environmentally responsibly. Opponents say it can’t, and the community will be left to deal with the damage.
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