Judge's ruling reverses DHEC's denial, allows Kiawah River bulkhead

Ruling would allow 1/2-mile erosion prevention wall near Captain Sam's Spit

By Tony Bartelme
The Post and Courier
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

KIAWAH ISLAND – The island's developers won a major court victory this week in their effort to build homes on a sand spit next to Charleston County's Beachwalker Park when a judge granted a permit to build a half-mile erosion prevention wall along the Kiawah River.

The judge's ruling reversed an earlier decision by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

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Chief Administrative Law Judge Ralph Anderson's order granting Kiawah Development Partners permit to build a half-mile revetment on Capt. Sam's Spit.
Kiawah Development Partners wants to build a 2,783-foot bulkhead and revetment to stop erosion next to Beachwalker Park. Administrative Law Judge Ralph Anderson ruled Monday in favor of the development company, reversing an earlier decision by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Last year, DHEC said that Kiawah Development Partners could build a 270-foot wall along the county's park, but determined that a proposed 2,783-foot bulkhead would prevent "shoreline movement in an area that historically has seen inlet formation," and that it would "facilitate development in a pristine dune area." Kiawah Development Partners appealed DHEC's decision to the South Carolina Administrative Law Court.

On Monday, Chief Administrative Law Judge Ralph Anderson ruled in favor of the development company, writing in a 31-page order that "… the project will clearly reduce and likely stop erosion rather than precipitate any erosion. In fact, the benefit from protection of its upland through stabilization of the riverbank is considerable when compared with the benefit of leaving the riverbank in its unaltered state and allowing the erosion to continue unabated into the forested highland and dune areas along the river. This erosion has no positive benefit for anyone and clearly is a detriment to the landowner."

In a statement, Buddy Darby, Kiawah Development Partners chairman and chief executive officer, said the judge's decision "is further validation that sensitive, low-density development can be done and will be done responsibly at Kiawah Island as well as on other sea island communities."

Darby said that sand has been building up at the southern end of the island, known as Captain Sam's Spit, for more than 60 years, sometimes at a rate of 15-feet per year. He said the design of the revetment will allow marsh grass to grow between holes in the concrete.

The developers have said they hope to build up to 50 homes on the spit, which covers about 150 acres.

Conservation groups vowed to continue their fight. "The people will win this in the end," said Sidi Limehouse, a Johns Island farmer and head of Friends of Kiawah River. "I read the order, and it looks like Darby wrote it. I think the judge came to the wrong decision."

Limehouse said he is buoyed by a decision earlier this month by the appointed board of DHEC, which nixed a separate plan by the developers to plant a wall in the sand spit to prevent erosion from affecting future utilities and road on the spit.
The development battle began two years ago after Post and Courier Watchdog revealed U.S. Rep. Henry Brown's attempt to give the developers an insurance break on any future homes that were built on the spit. Brown eventually withdrew his bill.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

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"Carolina Joe" Idleman

Tony Bartelme at 937-5554 or bartelme@postandcourier
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