Appeal Filed to Overturn Ruling that Saved Maritime Forest
As you are aware, on January 30, 2023, in a blockbuster victory for the environment, a South Carolina Circuit Court invalidated the Settlement Agreement entered into by a previous Town Council that would have allowed the destruction of our unique Maritime Forest. But that is, unfortunately, not where our effort to save the maritime forest ends!
We had hoped that the parties who have sued the Town for more than a decade would finally put the issue to bed and join with us in preserving the centerpiece of the Town’s resiliency plan that protects residents from dangerous hurricane storm surge and the effects of sea level rise. But, when the Courts denied the Defendants’ request to reconsider the January ruling, they filed an appeal on July 5.
Sullivan’s Island For All will continue our work to assure the survival of this unique and invaluable ecosystem, as is the wish of the vast majority of islanders, which played out strongly in the past two local elections. As you recall, SI for All was instrumental in developing the previous legal strategy that ultimately overturned the invalid settlement entered into by the previous Town Council, and every member who voted for that settlement in 2020, has lost his or her seat of local leadership.
With those who want to destroy this national treasure still pushing for the forest’s destruction in court, we need your support more than ever before! Please consider a donation that will allow us to continue our work to preserve the maritime forest.
BACKGROUND ON CASE
Courtesy: Post and Courier
On January 30, 2023, Circuit Court Judge Jennifer McCoy ruled in favor of the Town of Sullivan’s Island’s request to invalidate the settlement agreement entered into by a previous Town Council, that would have allowed for the destruction of the Island’s unique Maritime Forest.
The Court called the agreement “invalid and unenforceable” because it attempted to bind the hands of future town councils and gave power in perpetuity to a small group of private citizens to veto efforts of future Town Councils wanting to manage the Maritime Forest in the public’s best interest. Judge McCoy also ruled against the Defendant’s counterclaims.
“This ruling is validation of everything Sullivan’s Island for All has fought for since this unlawful agreement was passed in a hastily called Zoom meeting by a former Town Council at the height of the pandemic,” said Sullivan’s Island for All President Karen Byko. “Anyone who read the settlement could immediately see that it was a one-sided attempt to destroy the forest that protects all of us from storm surge and hurricanes, so a few islanders could have better ocean views.”
In a strong repudiation of the Settlement Agreement, the judge opined that it “imposes affirmative, ongoing, and perpetual obligations, circumvents the Town’s zoning procedures, supplants the Town’s duly enacted zoning ordinances, and bargains away the authority and discretion of future town councils to act in the public interest.”
If implemented, the Settlement Agreement would have overridden the Town Council’s ability to manage the Maritime Forest, the centerpiece of the Town’s climate resiliency plan to protect residents from dangerous hurricane storm surge penetrating inland and the effects of sea level rise, a public policy consideration that the Court felt was particularly important for a barrier island, such as Sullivan’s.
The Settlement Agreement, opposed by the majority of islanders, would have removed and cut significant areas of vegetation in the 195-acre Maritime Forest and negatively impacted stormwater runoff, according to a letter sent to the Town by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). Sullivan’s Island Mayor Pat O’Neil called the Settlement Agreement an attempt at “legalized deforestation.”
The Court ruled, “the Town may not be restricted from adopting in the future any regulations concerning the Accreted Land [Maritime Forest] or taking any other action it deems appropriate for public safety and general welfare. It is a continuing power which may be exercised as often as required in the public interest and must always remain fluid.”