Senate committee advances Capt. Sam’s Spit bill

The wooded high ground where a Kiawah Island development is planned on Capt. Sam’s Spit stands just beyond a new channel cut for the Kiawah River across the spit, to stave off erosion of nearby Seabrook Island.

A line in the sand that could have stopped a road from being built to develop Capt. Sam’s Spit was rubbed out Tuesday by a state Senate committee.

A subcommittee removed language that would have fixed in place a regulatory setback line that restricts how close to a beach you can build. The line could determine whether there’s enough legal space to build a road across the narrow neck access to the spit, where Kiawah Partners also is attempting to build a revetment wall to hold the road in place.

Like other inlet areas, Capt. Sam’s is continually reshaped by waves and wind. Currently, it is eroding along the riverbank where the road is planned, while the beach is gaining sand. The line now could be moved toward the beach in a periodic redrawing that is underway, giving more room for the road.

The Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee approved the committee bill, after delaying a vote on the previous version of the bill last spring. The full Senate is expected to have the bill on its calendar in January.

The legislative moves come days after the state Supreme Court overruled an Administrative Law Court judge to stop work on the road, in another round of a legal chess match that has been waged for 10 years.

The bill included a number of other changes recommended by an ad hoc stakeholders committee to rework coastal regulations which had been challenged successfully in court. Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, the subcommittee chairman and a member of that ad hoc committee, said the line provision was removed because a few senators told him they would block the bill on the floor if it were included.

“There were so many good things in that bill that need to be approved,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is get something done.”

A spokesman for Kiawah Partners said they were evaluating the bill before commenting.

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 company 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.

Conservation interests say the spit is too fragile to be built on. It’s 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.

The developers and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League have pushed legislators hard on the issue, and Katie Zimmerman, league program director, said she hopes the setback line language will be put back in the bill by the full Senate.

“I’m hopeful other senators will realize it’s unacceptable to avoid a baseline for the sake of Kiawah Partners. It’s really up to Mother Nature whether (the company) gets its wish and the spit builds up enough to make room for a road before a permanent baseline is set. We will continue to advocate against the ill-conceived development regardless,” she said.

Reach Bo Petersen at (843) 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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