3rd hearing for disputed development on Kiawah Island

By Stefanie

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (WCIV) - It's round three in the state's Supreme Court for a legal land dispute involving Captain Sam's Spit on Kiawah Island.

On Wednesday, the State Supreme Court is expected to take up the issue that could decide the future of a pristine piece of Lowcountry land.

Strand-feeding bottlenose dolphins, endangered piping plover, and diamondback terrapin are all part of the daily life at Captain Sam's Spit. The home for these animals along the Kiawah River hangs in balance as the big question remains whether to allow the owners of the property, Kiawah Partners, the ability to develop the land.

"As a famous politician once said, the court was against this ruling before they were for it," Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation League, Dana Beach said.

In the first ruling in 2011, the State Supreme Court denied the owner's request to build a half-mile long concrete wall that's part of a proposed plan to build 50 new homes on Captain Sam's Spit.

A second ruling in 2012 reversed that decision, giving the green light for Kiawah Partners to build the wall.

"The important point to know about this is that it [Captain Sam's Spit] is so dynamic and mobile that it should never be built on," Beach said. "Captain Sam's Spit has very important wildlife value for dolphins, who strand-feed on the back side of the spit, diamondback terrapin, which are really a declining species but a beautiful salt water turtle, and shorebirds in vast numbers come through and use this area in migration."

"In the second ruling the court reversed itself for technical reasons -- not really substantive reasons -- and they ruled in a very confusing way and so this opportunity will allow us to make the case in a substantive way that the first decision was the right one."

A spokesman for Kiawah Partners, Mike{}Touhill, says that the group has done their own environmental studies with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that showed developing the Captain Sam's Spit will not endanger wildlife.

"We are very confident of the facts of the most recent case," Touhill said. The court ruled in favor of Kiawah Partners in the second hearing. This week it was announced that Kiawah Partners was bought by North Carolina firm, South Street Partners. Touhill says the new owners will continue going forward with the case and all commitments including the revetment plans for Captain Sam's Spit.

The third hearing is set for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in Columbia.

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