When Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed a bill that would have allowed DeBordieu Colony to rebuild a sea wall protecting multimillion-dollar oceanfront homes in May, he rightly took a tough but reasoned stand in line with the state’s shoreline management policy, which essentially says you can’t hold back the ocean.
So, after more than a decade of legal wrangling, it’s hard to square how Kiawah Development Partners thinks it’s OK to build a 2,380-foot steel retaining wall for a road onto as-yet undeveloped Captain Sam’s Spit.
But the S.C. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, which is the Coastal Conservation League’s appeal of an administrative law court decision in favor of Kiawah Development Partners.
Hopefully, the justices will put to rest plans to develop the 150-acre spit. It is, after all, an ephemeral piece of land existing at the whim of nature. It’s also the public’s only access to the beach at the otherwise gated island community.
But those facts have not deterred Kiawah Development Partners, which apparently remains willing to gamble on a venture that almost certainly would net sizable profits but leave taxpayers on the hook via state and federal disaster relief in the event of a catastrophic storm. Wisely, the National Flood Insurance Program has ruled out covering any the 50 homes proposed on 20 acres.
There are many other good arguments against building on wildlife-rich Captain Sam’s Spit, but the biggest is that it’s too risky.
Yes, Kiawah Development Partners owns the land and ought to be able to do with it as it pleases to an extent, but not at the public’s expense. A 2014 Supreme Court ruling regarding Captain Sam’s affirmed that concept when it ruled lower courts had not properly considered the public’s interest.
And, yes, the spit has been accreting on its southwestern end in recent years. But 2016’s Hurricane Matthew whittled away at its neck, and the next big storm could sever the teardrop-shaped spit from the rest of Kiawah. And with rising sea levels, development defies common sense.
The spit is a rare undeveloped stretch of coast where dolphins strand-feed, terrapins nest in the dunes and seabirds forage in the surf. We should endeavor to keep it in its natural state for as long as possible because the sea eventually will claim it whether it’s developed or not.
It’s unconscionable that an administrative law judge ruled last year that the economic benefits of developing the spit estimated at $200 million, along with about $5 million in annual tax revenues, outweighed its preservation. The Supreme Court should be looking at preserving one of South Carolina’s few unmolested beaches.
The upcoming hearing will be the fifth time the proposed development has come before the state Supreme Court. Hopefully, the justices will see the wisdom of denying a permit for the retaining wall and put the issue of building on the environmentally fragile spit to rest for good.