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Commentary: Sullivan's Island's accreted land is hardly a 'marvel of nature'

Steven Poletti

Steven Poletti

I have lived on Sullivan’s Island for 25 years. I’m a physician, and consider myself to be an advocate of the environment and historical preservation.

In fact, I own the only property on the island that has been recognized and awarded the Carolopolis award by the Preservation Society of Charleston.

When I read Brian Hicks’ column Wednesday, I wondered if he’d ever stepped foot in the island’s accreted land.

He described the maritime forest as a “public park and a marvel of nature,” but I challenge him or anyone else to stroll off of the public beach paths that cut through it.

If invasive species are your thing, then what you find may be a “marvel,” but be sure to bring your snake boots and thick clothing. The vast majority of the accreted land is nothing like the picturesque photos routinely published in The Post and Courier.

There is no mention in the settlement agreement of a plan to “chop down much of the island’s maritime forest,” as Mr. Hicks describes it. The agreement — copies of which are readily available through the town’s website and other public sources — spells out exactly what vegetation will be removed and what will remain.

I have been a witness to the accreted land battle on the island that has lasted for nearly 30 years. The self-described “islanders” who have orchestrated this 11th-hour effort to upend the settlement agreement are united only in their opposition to any reasonable land management.

Some even have gone so far as to physically block machinery that was widening the Station 16 beach path after a girl was assaulted on it in 2007.

The accreted land issue really should have been settled right after that horrible event.

Her haunting testimony — “I thought ... this is it, nobody can hear my screams ..., I’m all alone” — still resonates as a warning that the unnatural overgrowth has gone too far.

The settlement agreement that was proposed in the regular course of town business, and supported and voted on by the prior elected Town Council, is a reasonable compromise.

The alternative is many more years of additional lawsuits and hundreds of thousands (or perhaps millions) of dollars in legal fees borne by taxpayers.

Mr. Hicks applauded Mayor Pat O’Neil for making the analogy that relying on the town attorneys’ advice was essentially like getting a second opinion from the same doctor.

Well, if you’re a hypochondriac and have seen the same doctor for 20 years, and yet insist that the doctor is now wrong, you’re going to have to foot the bill if you want all the tests repeated.

That’s exactly the case here. The insurance company is going to deny the care, and we’re going to pay our second-opinion lawyer hundreds of dollars an hour and a hefty retainer.

Up until now, an insurance policy has paid the town’s legal fees, which are in a million-dollar range to date.

Now, William Wilkins’ legal fees will be paid by the town directly.

Which, of course, means that we the taxpayers will pay.

It is important to note that protected land grants and town-owned rights of way on the mayor’s side of the island — the waterway side — have little if any restriction imposed on shrub and tree removal.

Despite what the “conservationists” say, the settlement is a reasonable compromise that serves our island well. It should be implemented by the town without further shenanigans or delay.

The only thing the opponents want to preserve is conflict and hostility, and their vitriol has poisoned our island community.

Mr Hicks’ opinion seems nothing more than an echo chamber fed to him by the usual suspects.

Steven Poletti is a Sullivan's Island resident.

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