SULLIVAN'S ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - Sullivan's Island leaders gathered at a special meeting Monday night to address the island's land management plan, particularly how to manage growing land along the beachfront.
"This land has not been here for too long," Sarah Diaz said. "Some of it's been growing in the last 50 years or so. Some of its older growth maritime forest, but some of its newer, especially the scrubland."
Diaz is a lifelong resident of Sullivan's Island and also serves as a research biologist for Audubon South Carolina.
The island's natural water flow pushes soil onshore, which creates new land over time. That land is owned by the town and protected under a conservation easement with the Lowcountry Open Land Trust.
Diaz has been part of a recent project tagging bird species in the area. "The scrubland habitat and the maritime forest are very important for neo-tropical migr ant species and other bird species," she explained. "And they need this habitat to refuel and rest."
Mayor Pat O'Neil of Sullivan's Island said island growth is better than the opposite effect: erosion. But the continuously growing forest worries some locals.
"My primary concern is the safety issue," Bill Craver said. "I'm concerned about the safety issue and potential liability for the town of Sullivan's Island," adding that the snakes, coyotes and other wild animals in the maritime forest are a potential risk in a residential area.
Craver, who has lived on and off the island for decades, also expressed concern over the abundance of wax myrtle trees, which could possibly be a fire hazard for island homes.
His second concern is making the land more public-friendly to encourage access for the whole community. "It's a swamp. It's wild," Craver said. "Everybody's not going to go in it. But if you had open grassy areas and oak trees and picnic tables, everybody would use it. And everybody could use it."
Other residents are concerned over losing beachfront views. Mayor O'Neil said the land is important for the town and the Lowcountry; as owner of the land, he said the town should be a better steward and neighbor of it.
"The fact that people take up residents, it kind of gets caught in the middle when it starts eroding or accreting," Diaz said. "I'm confident that Mayor O'Neil and the rest of town council will be able to develop a best management plan for both the citizens to be happy as well as protect the land."
Monday's town council meeting intended to explore a plan to use transition zones, buffers to manage forest along private property. However, the meeting ended with no vote to further than action.