Tuesday, June 25, 2024 News · Press Releases

Settlement agreement provides for studies, safeguards for wildlife on Seabrook Island

by Lily Abromeit

The Coastal Conservation League, represented by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP), reached an agreement with the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association (SIPOA) regarding a proposed sand scraping project along the beachfront of Seabrook Island and Captain Sam’s Inlet.

“This agreement reinforces the need for long-term solutions for beach management,” said Riley Egger, Land, Water & Wildlife Program Director for the Coastal Conservation League. “This sets the stage for Seabrook to pursue future projects that are less environmentally impactful and have potential co-benefits for important bird habitat at Deveaux Bank.”

The beach on Seabrook Island has experienced erosion for years, and multiple short-term projects to combat erosion have taken place. However, sand scraping — disruptively excavating sand and transferring it — is normally only done under emergency conditions, such as after a hurricane or major storm, and in confined areas of beach. Repeatedly scraping up to 25 acres of beach every few years as a means of long-term beach management has significant implications for coastal wildlife, such as migratory and overwintering shorebirds and nesting sea turtles.

“Seabrook Island is part of a very fragile and valuable ecosystem and we are pleased we were able to obtain SIPOA’s commitment to explore better solutions, both in the long and short term for Seabrook and the larger system,” said Leslie Lenhardt, Senior Managing Attorney at SCELP.

In 2023, SIPOA received a permit from the Department of Health and Environmental Control for a sand scraping project to periodically mine up to 25 acres of sand from the beach between central Seabrook Island and Captain Sams Inlet and transfer the sand further south near Seabrook Island Beach Club. Sand scraping is an engineering technique that differs from beach renourishment because no new sediment is introduced. Instead, sand is taken from one part of the beach via truck and redistributed within the dune system. These projects are a short-sighted, short-term solution to address long-term beach erosion challenges.

In November 2023, SCELP and the Conservation League appealed the DHEC permit to the Administrative Law Court.

The settlement agreement reduces the number of scraping events from three to two and commits SIPOA to explore beach management practices that may have additional co-benefits for habitat in the Seabrook-Kiawah Complex and Deveaux Bank, such as renourishment from offshore dredging.

This settlement also secures critical safeguards for wildlife. Scraping is limited between October 15 and December 31 to account for impacts to sea turtle nesting and shorebird foraging habitat.

Yearly population surveys and habitat mapping for piping plover and red knots will also be required over the life of the permit.

Additionally, $50,000 will be allotted to a sediment dynamic study of the North Edisto inlet. Our coastal spaces, for both wildlife and people, are at the whim of how the tides and currents influence how sand and other sediments move and settle in our coastal waters.

“We are optimistic about this study, as it will act as a first step in understanding the forces that shape Deveaux Bank and Seabrook Island to help guide future management and restoration options for critical bird habitat,” said Faith Rivers James, Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation League.

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