Because environmental issues are health issues, the Lowcountry Graduate Center’s Healthcare Advisory Board recently invited Emily Cedzo, Land, Water and Wildlife Program Director for the Coastal Conservation League, to present the organization’s priorities for 2018.
The Coastal Conservation League’s mission is “to protect the threatened resources of the South Carolina coastal plain — its natural landscapes, abundant wildlife, clean water, and quality of life — by working with citizens and government on proactive, comprehensive solutions to environmental challenges.”
The three priorities Cedzo addressed were plastic pollution, shoreline conservation and protection of Kiawah Island’s Captain Sam’s Spit against ill-advised property development.
The effort to curb plastic pollution has gained momentum in recent months as various coastal municipalities ban single-use plastic bags that find their way onto the shore, into the water and down the stomachs of fish, turtles, and birds. The Citadel estimates that over seven tons of plastic are actively breaking down in the Charleston Harbor. They are finding their way into humans after they are consumed by aquatic animals we eat.
The SC Aquarium offers dramatic testimony to the plastic problem locally, treating a growing number of turtles being strangled by ingested plastic bags, which resemble the jellyfish that serve as a major food source. The number of turtles falling victim to plastic has skyrocketed 18-fold in the last five years.
Isle of Palms, Folly Beach, and Mt. Pleasant have all passed one kind of plastics ban or another. Folly’s was spearheaded by area businesses, who see a pristine beach as their major attraction. The average number of bags found in area “litter sweeps” in the City of Folly Beach has plummeted from 33 to seven.
The major threat to these local ordinances has come from state lawmakers, who have twice attempted to pass pre-emption bills that override any municipal laws. The last attempt succumbed to a legislative bottleneck that has left many bills unconsidered, but it could return in a new form in the next legislative session.
Coastal Conservation League is advocating in the statehouse for home rule, which allows local communities to address local problems with local solutions.
The Battle Over the Shoreline
Shoreline reform issues often pit property rights activists against those advocating a balance of private and public rights on area beaches. Since the 1980s, the state has adhered to a written policy on beach management that discourages further development beyond a point where the ocean is likely to reclaim anything built. The Coastal Conservation League, collaborating with many coastal communities, beat back an attempt to eliminate that baseline that prevents development from moving closer to the ocean, maintaining healthy beaches and attracting tourists to our area.
Captain Sam’s Spit
Coastal Conservation League is focusing some of its advocacy efforts on one 150-acre, ecologically sensitive area on Kiawah Island being eyed by a real estate and resort developer. To the horror of many Kiawah residents, Kiawah Partners proposes to build 50 luxury homes on the fragile lick of land called Captain Sam’s Spit. To do so, developers must build a road to the development, and to do that; they must build a concrete wall to keep the Kiawah River from swallowing up the road.
In the latest round of arguments, the state Supreme Court unanimously struck down the company’s attempt to build that wall, but it has proposed a work-around that is now before an Administrative Law Court. “This is a textbook example of inappropriate development,” Cedzo said.
A pod of bottlenose dolphins, deer, bobcat, terrapins, songbirds and other wildlife has borne witness from the shore of this decade-long legal battle waged by the League and others against the development. While the battle goes on, hurricanes batter the spit while tides erode and accrete it with regularity.
These are three top priorities of the community-based organization’s Land, Water & Wildlife program. The League finds itself on the front line of fights affected by or with implications for larger issues like climate change and the shape of community development. For more information about Coastal Conservation League, visit https://coastalconservationleague.org/.