A resort on Bay Point Island?
Three years ago, Hilton Head Town Council voted unanimously to accept an application for the annexation of Bay Point Island, a vulnerable barrier island at the mouth of the Port Royal sound. After two storms and learning more about the historical and ecological significance of this highly erosional island, Hilton Head Town Council backed away from the project. To date, the island remains largely untouched.
But as is so often the case, bad ideas don’t go away – they just find new homes. In this case, the developers are now targeting Beaufort County. Unbelievably, they are attempting to sell the development as “eco-tourism,” an allowable use under the island’s rural zoning. But a boutique hotel and spa do not constitute “eco-tourism”; they are just elements of a high end resort.
What’s next? On October 15 at 6:00 PM the developers presented their plans for the island to the St. Helena community. Opposition to the project was nearly unanimous. However, because the developers plan to work within the existing zoning category, only staff and Zoning Board of Appeals approval is necessary. The first step is for the developers to receive conceptual approval for their plan from county planning staff. Although public comment is not generally permitted, staff review team meetings are open to the public. We continue to monitor those agendas.
What’s at risk for Beaufort County?
The ongoing financial costs of this development will be significant. The island is erosional and at the edge of the Port Royal Sound; Beaufort County must be aware of ongoing beach management costs. By way of example, Hilton Head Island has spent $60 million nourishing its beaches. Frequent nourishments at Bay Point Island would be necessary to hold the island in place.
The county would also be responsible for providing emergency services. County officials have stated that their response time to the island under the best circumstance is over one hour.
What’s wrong with development on Bay Point?
Wildlife impact: Development would harm a nationally designated Important Bird Area. At high tide from December through March, Bay Point Island holds around 5,000 shorebirds and that number can sometimes reach 8,000. This is only possible because there is minimal human disturbance on Bay Point Island. As the Audubon Society has noted: “no other area within miles approaches the holding power of this island and inlet to shorebirds in winter.” In addition, Bay Point Island serves as valuable sea turtle nesting habitat. During the summer of 2019, 107 loggerhead sea turtle nests were recorded on the island.
Infrastructure: Water and sewer would be expensive and impractical to provide to the island. There are no existing septic permits and private utilities carry costly risks to the environment. The resort will also need electricity. Even if the proposed resort utilizes solar or wind power, it will need to fuel a backup generator and that fuel will need to be delivered to the island by some combination of planes, boats and vehicles. Ultimately, Beaufort County is responsible for the long-term liability of these operations.
Erosion: The island is highly erosional and its shoreline is constantly changing. In an era of rising seas and more frequent storm events, developing an island like Bay Point is short sighted. The question is not if erosion will take a toll on the development, but when.