“You won the first round, but you’re not going to win the second round.”

This comment was made by Senator Paul Campbell at today’s hearing on the beachfront protection act. Sen. Campbell is promoting an amendment on behalf of a Charlotte-based development company (which is, incidentally, backed by a hedge fund in New York.) His amendment would have allowed the beach building line to move seaward, facilitating the construction of a road and 50 houses on Captain Sams Spit, an ephemeral sand dune on the western end of Kiawah Island.

Captain Sams Spit is used extensively by migratory shorebirds, bottlenose dolphin, which “strand feed” on the marsh edge, and rare diamondback terrapin turtles. The bill under consideration was the product of a blue ribbon committee of citizens and scientists who met for more than a year to determine how best to improve the 30 year old beachfront law.

A key recommendation by the committee, which is now part of the bill, would prevent the building line from moving seaward. The reason is obvious. Beaches cycle between erosion and accretion. Even with no rise in sea level, moving a building line forward during an accretional period sets the stage for conflict and damage when the process reverses itself.

As the Conservation League’s Katie Zimmerman testified, the struggle to protect condominiums and the 18th hole of the golf course on the northern end of Isle of Palms illustrates the futility of trying to hold back the ocean, and the foolishness of building on shifting sands.

Thirty years after the stage was set for the debacle on Isle of Palms, the Kiawah developers are spending tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists in an attempt to repeat those mistakes. Notably, and wisely, the first development plan for Kiawah, in the 1970s, stipulated that Capt. Sams Spit was too unstable for construction and should be left alone.

Because of the hard work of many people concerned about the Spit, the Senate committee today rejected the Campbell amendment and voted to send the bill to the floor for a vote.

So what would it mean for Senator Campbell to win the second round? For a start, it would entail putting 50 expensive houses in harm’s way and imposing the costs of bailing out the homeowners — when a storm struck, or when erosion undermined the houses — on the island residents and taxpayers. Winning, by Sen. Campbell’s definition, would allow the developers, who have stated that their investment strategy is to hold the property for a limited time and then flip the island to another owner, to reap the profits of lot sales without the responsibility of being around when the properties are damaged. It’s a classic case of privatizing profit and shifting the financial liability to the public.

On the other hand, the victory today in the Senate committee, in which a science-based bill moved forward, is a win for fiscal responsibility, safety and the environment. Let’s try to make sure this version of winning prevails. Please let your state senator and house member know that you support passage of the beachfront management bill without the Campbell amendment.


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