South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is “concerned” about plans to cut down maritime forest – The Island Eye News


By Brian Sherman For The Island Eye News

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control questions how and how many trees would be removed from Sullivan’s Island Marine Forest as part of a plan created for the city by consultant Thomas & Hutton . In a letter dated December 20, 2021, Matthew Slagel, director of DHEC’s waterfront licensing project, wrote that the plan would require a major critical area permit. The plan was developed after the divided Sullivan Island City Council reached an agreement with landowners who live near the Maritime Forest, apparently settling a lawsuit originally filed in July 2010 and allowing the removal of trees and other forest plants. Under the plan, based on a 2014 study of trees 6 inches and larger in diameter, in one section of the forest, 167 of 174 trees would be removed. In another section, only 16 of the 79 trees would remain in place. “DHEC found that in some areas 96% of all trees would be felled.

Studies by three federal agencies, including NOAA and FEMA, show that the density and height of vegetation and trees are our most important protection against the # 1 threat on the island: the storm surge. “said Karen Byko, President of Sullivan’s Island for All, a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve the Sullivan’s Island Marine Forest and accreted lands in their natural state for the benefit, protection and enjoyment of All. In the letter of December 20, Slagel also expressed concern about how trees and vegetation would be removed. “You suggested using a compact mower mounted on a small tractor with rubber tires or a similar machine in this area to cut at ground level and field mulch trees and shrubs 3 inches and less. We are of the opinion that the use of machines in the beach / dune system will disturb and will alter existing soils and topography, even if the trees and shrubs themselves are cut at ground level, ”the letter says. Slagel also pointed out that the DHEC Bureau of Water Coastal Stormwater Permitting is working with Thomas & Hutton to obtain information on how changes in vegetation cover might affect stormwater runoff. According to a press release from Sullivan’s Island for All, the DHEC letter “shows that this plan is not environmentally friendly and goes far beyond thinning and pruning vegetation.” “As DHEC’s stormwater division noted, removing these thousands of trees and shrubs puts the island at a much greater risk of flooding,” Byko said. “These trees work like natural rainwater pumps. Removing them for a better view puts every owner on the island at greater risk. The DHEC’s concerns are not the only ones delaying the implementation of plans to remove trees and other vegetation from the Forest. Of the four council members who voted to approve the settlement agreement with neighboring landowners, only two remain in office: Greg Hammond and Kaye Smith. Tim Reese was defeated in the May 4 municipal election and Chauncey Clark lost his candidacy to oust Mayor Pat O’Neil.

The new council, which is apparently considering its options in its efforts to change the terms of the deal, voted in September 2021 to ask former chief justice of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth District William W. “Billy ‘Wilkins to assess the agreement. Wilkins has determined that the agreement is invalid” because its provisions unduly restrict the legislative / governmental powers of successor city councils, unduly deprive the city of legislative / governmental powers and restrict unduly the property functions of the city “.


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