Capt. Sams Spit (copy) (copy)

Kiawah Development Partners was denied by a state Supreme Court ruling the permit to build a bulkhead wall to develop Capt. Sam's Spit on Kiawah Island. Provided

KIAWAH ISLAND – In a victory for conservation groups, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a bulkhead and retaining wall can't be built on Capt. Sam's Spit.

And, in a victory for public access, a shorter wall can be built to protect Beachwalker Park adjacent the spit.

It was a "tremendous victory," said attorney Amy Armstrong of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, who had argued the case opposing development on the spit.

"The whole shoreline needs to be protected for public use," she added.

The spit, where the Kiawah River empties into the Atlantic Ocean, has been a sought-after natural destination for years. Its flocks of shorebirds and dolphin feeding along its banks have drawn a growing number of onlookers since the high-profile dispute began.

A development company wants to build 50 homes there.

This case involved a permit for a 270-feet long bulkhead and revetment wall at the parking area for the park. Also, a half-mile long wall that Kiawah Development Partners wants on the narrow neck of the spit on the eroding river bank to protect a road to the high ground beyond.

A revetment is a sloped, reinforced surface usually constructed of rock or a similar material. A bulkhead is a vertical wall, usually made of wood.

The decision split a lower court ruling allowing permits for the entire wall. That was appealed by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Coastal Conservation League.

It was the fourth time the justices heard a case involving the embattled spit on Kiawah, south of Charleston.

The battle over the development is far from over. Kiawah Development Partners, the company attempting to build the homes, could ask the court to reconsider the case.

Trenholm Walker, an attorney for the company, did not return a call or respond to an email by press time after saying he would review the ruling and consider whether to comment.

The spit is a 150-acre, teardrop-shaped 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 nearby Beachwalker Park.

After the developers announced plans to build the 50 homes on the high ground, 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.

Groups such as the Coastal Conservation League, which oppose the permits, say the spit is too fragile and too valuable as a natural resource to be built on. 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.

Reach Bo Petersen Reporter at Facebook, @bopete on Twitter or 1-843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.