Capt. Sam’s Spit road up in air

Boaters make their way up the Kiawah River along the narrow neck of Capt. Sam’s Spit, where beach setback rules could determine whether a controversial development road can be built.

Months-long lobbying efforts and a surprise compromise make the latest legislative bill affecting Capt. Sam’s Spit appear decisive.

It’s anything but that.

The state Senate-passed bill would keep a regulatory setback line that restricts how close to a beach you can build from being moved seaward as of the end of 2017. The line could determine whether there’s enough legal space to build a controversial road across the narrow neck access to the spit, where Kiawah Partners plans to build 50 homes.

Nobody knows yet where that 2017 line would be set on Capt. Sam’s as state regulators work on a periodic coastwide update that has in the past moved the line farther away from or closer to specific beaches because of erosion or accretion.

“We have begun preliminary work on the project and are in the process of evaluating the new proposed timeline,” said Robert Yanity, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman.

The Capt. Sam’s developers have sought to delay restricting a permanent inland barrier for the line until 2020, and say they anticipate the updated line would give the road more building space. Conservationists want to keep it where it is now.

The fight over the bill spurred amendments, counter amendments and a stymieing legislative objection before the compromise was reached. Both the Coastal Conservation League and Kiawah Partners were startled enough at the last-minute Senate vote last week that interests for neither group were in the chamber.

Meanwhile, a series of court challenges continue that, for the moment, have stopped any attempt to build a support wall needed for the road along the eroding riverbank.

The spit is a wildlife-rich, 150-acre sand strip along Capt. Sam’s Inlet between Kiawah and Seabrook islands. It was left undeveloped while most of the rest of the island was built on, and is now one of the few undeveloped barrier island spits the public has ready access to because of the adjacent Beachwalker Park.

The Kiawah Partners has announced plans to build 50 homes on high ground on the spit. Company representatives have said building would take place along only 20 acres, and 85 percent of the spit is slated to be put under conservation easement.

A park with parking and beach access would be preserved, but its makeup could well change, both the developers and Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission staff have said.

Kiawah Partners declined to comment for this story.

Conservation interests say the spit is too fragile to be built on. 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 diamondback terrapin turtles nest, dolphins drive schools of baitfish onto the beach and jump up after them to feed.

Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, who had sought to delay the permanent line until 2020 and has been caught in the middle of the controversy, said he has been told DHEC would have the line redrawn by the end of 2017 and called the compromise bill a win-win for everybody.

“It accomplished everything we wanted it to,” he said.

The bill is now up for consideration by House representatives this week, and with the session approaching its end, it was uncertain whether a new measure packed with that much controversy would be dealt with.

Reach Bo Petersen at 843-937-5744.