Sullivan’s Island land management of Maritime Forest vote passes 4 to 3

Updated: Oct. 2, 2020 at 11:40 AM EDT
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SULLIVAN’S ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - The Sullivan’s Island Town Council says they voted 4 to 3 to approve a settlement that will allow the reduction of the islands maritime forest.

For years, residents say there’s been controversy surrounding the vegetation of the maritime forest on Sullivan’s Island. Since the underdeveloped beachfront land is currently protected, the forest has grown at its own pace and come to span about 150 acres.

A few years ago, a group of oceanfront homeowners say they sued the town asking for more maintenance and claiming the maritime forest breeds pests, is a fire hazard and obstructs their views.

Court documents state the lawsuit went all the way to the South Carolina supreme court, but was sent back to local courts.

Other island residents argue that the forest protects the island from storms and sea level rise because it absorbs water. They say it is also home to various wildlife habitats.

Sullivan’s Island Mayor Patrick O’Neil says he’s been adamantly opposed to the cutting of vegetation from the beginning.

“You know, all over the world, people are planting trees to try to address various issues of climate change, air quality, habitat loss and so on,” O’Neil said. “So, in the face of that, for us to be out there deliberately cutting trees, doesn’t make much sense to me.”

The town council says they plan to vote on a settlement about cutting vegetation in the maritime forest. They say it suggests cutting vegetation between Station 16 and Station 28.5, while additionally, it would allow the removal of all trees under a certain size.

O’Neil says it’s important to note that it will not allow any developments to be built on the land.

“This is a really important resource for Sullivan’s Island and frankly for the whole area,” O’Neil said. “It’s a very unique natural resource to have accreting land on a barrier island of South Carolina that’s been allowed to develop at its own pace on its own time clock.”

O’Neil says he’s gotten a tremendous amount of phone calls and inquiries from people who are concerned about the possibility of the settlement being approved.

“There’s a lot of people, hundreds of thousands of people in coastal communities, that would love to have the problem, in quotes, of trees and bushes and wildlife in front of them, rather than have a beach which is eroding and the waves lapping up against their houses,” O’Neil said. “So, I think we should really be very serious about protecting this resource that, for some reason, we happen to have.”

Sullivan’s Island says the meeting was held over Zoom at 9 a.m. Friday.

Officials say the public was able to watch the vote which required a four of seven majority vote from town council.

Now that the council has approved the settlement, O’Neil says it will still have to go before the Lowcountry Land Trust and few other entities, but this vote means the town is agreeing to it. He calls this a very serious step for the town.

More information on the accreted land management plans for Sullivan’s Island can be found on the Sullivan’s Island website.

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