FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 18, 2022
Amy Armstrong, Esquire
Executive Director, General Counsel
South Carolina Environmental Law Project
[email protected], (843) 527-0078
Melinda Kelley, Chair
Wadmalaw Island Land Planning Committee
[email protected], (843) 214-8266
Coastal Conservation League
[email protected], (843) 530-0211
Wadmalaw Citizens Seek Reversal of Permit Authorizing Destruction of Public Trust Tidelands
Wadmalaw Island residents and conservationists are asking the Board of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to reverse its staff’s decision to issue a permit to a developer seeking to dredge and excavate critical area wetlands near Leadenwah Creek.
The developer, Point Farm, LLC, seeks to convert the freshwater wetlands to tidal saltmarsh in order to create a profitable mitigation bank to offset critical area impacts elsewhere. The conversion would involve the removal an existing berm that has created a fully functioning freshwater impoundment.
The Wadmalaw Island Land Planning Committee, Coastal Conservation League and concerned citizens filed the request before the DHEC board on Thursday. Among their objections, they say the developer’s proposal to permanently alter public trust tidelands for mitigation credits is a blatant attempt to extract private economic benefit from public lands.
“We are concerned that the only justification for the damage the Point Farm project will do to the precious natural resources of Leadenwah Creek, Wadmalaw Island and its long-time residents appears to be the creation of a multi-million-dollar windfall profit for an investor group from Georgia,” said Wadmalaw Island residents and requestors John and Marilynn Hill.
Amy Armstrong of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, which filed the request on behalf of the parties, said, “This freshwater impoundment is a rarity on the sea islands and thus provides an ecologically rich system in the midst of vast amounts of salt marsh. The public would not benefit in any way from the proposed excavation of critical area.”
Further, the requestors say the destruction of this biologically rich area would impact many species of wildlife, including the threatened Wood Stork, that depend on the freshwater habitat.
“The developer’s plan would destroy valuable wildlife habitat and a public resource used for fishing, boating and recreation in the name of private gain. We urge the board to overturn this permit in order to protect the interests of our community and the interests of all South Carolinians,” said John Taylor, Jr., Vice Chair of the Wadmalaw Island Land Planning Committee.
Jason Crowley, Senior Director of Communities and Transportation for the Coastal Conservation League, said that in signing off on alterations to the critical area, the State has signed off on the transformation of functioning and highly valuable freshwater habitat into salt marsh.
“Wadmalaw Island is home to very few freshwater wetlands, making these impoundments even more important, particularly for wading birds. We are also concerned that the surrounding area could be developed, offsetting any benefits gained from the enlarged buffer proposed by the bank operator,” he added.
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The mission of Wadmalaw Island Land Planning Committee is to preserve and maintain the unique and cherished character of Wadmalaw Island by encouraging only the most appropriate and sustainable land use and development and opposing unplanned and inappropriate use and development, and to endeavor to represent the varied interests on the Island while protecting its diverse cultures and natural beauty for future generations. Learn more at http://www.wilpc.org/
Since 1989, the Coastal Conservation League has worked to protect the health of the natural resources of the South Carolina coastal plain and ensure a high quality of life for all of the people who live in and love this special place. The Coastal Conservation League is a 501(c)3 charitable organization. Learn more and get involved at www.coastalconservationleague.org
The South Carolina Environmental Law Project is a nonprofit public interest law firm. We use our legal expertise to protect land, water and communities across South Carolina. Learn more at www.scelp.org