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Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina–Usually the concern regarding beach property is erosion but not in the case of Sullivan’s Island. Over the years, sediment has slowly accumulated between beachfront property & the ocean. This build-up has caused maritime shrubs to grow and in some cases has caused homeowners grief as their views of the ocean are being obscured due to this natural growth of trees and shrubs.

According to the news article by the Post and Courier dated April 28, 2007, by Jill Coley, “In 1991, the town placed the land under a protective easement through the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, forbidding development.

As the first step toward an accreted land management plan, the town commissioned a baseline study. Now, with the study in hand, officials are ready to begin the process of hiring a management consultant.

But conflicting feelings about how to manage the land have been building as long as the land itself.

Twenty years ago, when David and Nancy Fortiere bought their beachfront home from her parents, they reveled in the cool ocean breeze.

Now, the Fortieres tend to sit with their backs to the view, which they call a wall of foliage. The stagnant air is stifling, and rodents breed in the brush, they said.

“All we want is what we had. We didn’t move here and say cut it down,” David Fortiere said.

Two streets back from the Fortieres, Norman and Julia Khoury also watched the maritime shrub forest edge over the horizon.

Norman Khoury, a founding member of the 150-member Islanders for Conservation, said he would like to see a management plan that works best for the land, without regard to views.

Town Administrator Andy Benke said property rights versus collective ownership is polarizing residents, but town officials want to do what is scientifically right for the area. That will include forest health, emergency access and fire breaks.

Lay of the land

Barrier islands are dynamic land forms that accrete and erode over time, said College of Charleston geology professor Norm Levine, co-author of the baseline study. What interrupted that process, causing the sediment to stabilize and produce a maritime shrub forest, remains a subject of speculation.

Co-author Charlie Kaufman, a master’s program graduate, said one theory concerns two jetties that were built in 1896 to keep sand from accumulating in Charleston Harbor. The jetties might have created a slack zone for sand to build up, he said.

The scientists classified the vegetation on the accreted land as a maritime shrub forest, a band of vegetation that circles a mature maritime forest.

The study cites the benefits of vegetation as offering stability and protection against storm surges and high winds. The forest is home to small mammals, reptiles and a variety of shorebirds and songbirds, the study said.

Town Council took a cautious step toward creation of a management plan this month. Before soliciting plan proposals, council members will review qualifications to better understand the political bent of potential consultants.

Councilman Pat O’Neil said, “I want somebody who’s very concerned about the environmental protection but who’s generally agnostic about how we do it.”

Several council members expressed concern that passages in the study went too far in recommending a noninvasive course of action.

To cut or not to cut?

The town allows property owners adjacent to the accreted land to cut Southern wax myrtles, Eastern baccharis and popcorn trees by permit to 5 feet tall.

Biologist Jean Everett, a College of Charleston senior instructor who did not participate in the study, said wax myrtle and baccharis trees are to be expected in a maritime shrub forest and can withstand hedging.

Popcorn trees, however, are an invasive species and should be removed, she said.

The Fortieres do not trim the accreted land in front of their house because several species not included in the ordinance grow there.

“Some on the island are making us out to think we want to clear-cut everything, and that’s not true,” Nancy Fortiere said.

The Fortieres said they would welcome tree species compatible with a maritime forest, such as oak trees and magnolias. But Everett said that such trees are found farther inland because they cannot tolerate saltwater wash.

Islanders for Conservation wants the current trimming ordinance overturned and points to language in the land trust’s deed that states the purpose is to retain land in its “natural, scenic, open or wooded condition.”

Will Haynie, executive director of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, pointed out a passage in the same document that allows the town the right to modify the property for several reasons, including vegetation management and scenic enhancement.

Two years ago, the issue came to a head when property owners David and Sonja Bloom petitioned for a judicial review after the board of zoning appeals denied them a variance to trim trees not specified in the ordinance.

Special Circuit Judge Mikell R. Scarborough supported the board’s refusal. “Under South Carolina law, a property owner has no right to an unobstructed ocean view or breeze,” the judge wrote in his decision.

The momentum of controversy shows few signs of slowing down. As the town moves gingerly toward a comprehensive plan, both sides will watch closely, fighting for their ideals of island beauty.

On the Web
To see the Accreted Land Baseline Study, go to www.sullivansisland-sc.com.”

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