U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, who represents South Carolina’s 1st District in Congress, recently wrote the following letter concerning Sullivan’s Island’s decision to allow trees to be cut and vegetation to be removed from the Maritime Forest to Army Corps of Engineers District Commander Lt. Col. Rachel Honderd; Elizbeth B. von Kolnitz, chief of the Office of Ocean & Coastal Management with the Department of Health and Environmental Control; and Mark Caldwell, deputy field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
I am writing to express my opposition to a proposal that would clear out nearly a hundred or more acres of maritime forest on Sullivan’s Island. At a special meeting on Oct. 2, 2020, the Sullivan’s Island Town Council voted 4-3 on a settlement agreement on a decade-old lawsuit that would pave the way for the removal of a majority of the maritime forest on the barrier island. I have several concerns surrounding this proposal, including the environmental impacts and the overall decision nmaking process.
The proposal, as it stands now, could result in the clearing-out of a majority of the maritime forest on Sullivan’s Island, which would have detrimental impacts not only on wildlife habitat but also on future resiliency measures on the Southern end of the island.
Maritime forests and accreted land provide vital benefits to barrier islands, including resilience from storm surge and winds, flood retention, wildlife habitat and more. As we face the mounting pressures of climate change and sea level rise, protecting this asset is paramount. A robust maritime forest offers protection to properties and infrastructures that are located on barrier islands. Such barrier islands, like Sullivan’s Island, are designed to do the job of protecting mainland ecosystems from hurricanes, storm surge and flooding. By cutting back the maritime forest, residents’ properties both on and off the island are left even more vulnerable to extreme weather and erosion. And, finally, this protected land is a critical stopover for many species of migratory birds, providing them with both food and shelter.
In addition to the negative impacts that eliminating a majority of the maritime forest would have on Sullivan’s Island, I have heard from a number of constituents on the island who are frustrated with the transparency and timing of the decision-making process.
Specifically, concerns exist surrounding the amount of time that public comments were allowed to be submitted prior to the Town Council’s expedited vote on the matter.
The settlement plan’s legitimacy is also called into question as it seemingly contradicts the town’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan, which calls for the town to continue to “maintain and preserve” the “accreted lands to the benefit of all of the residents and wildlife it preserves,” as well as an objective to “complete the Sullivan’s Island Accreted Land Management Plan with the broadest possible community participation and input, as an integral part of the town’s resiliency plan.” It is evident that the settlement decided on Oct. 2 may very well run counter to the intention and outlined principles in the town’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan.
As a proud representative of the Lowcountry in Congress, I know all too well the challenges of coastal management in our state. Sullivan’s Island is truly fortunate to have accreted land and a healthy ecosystem that provides important ecology and adaptation services to the entire island. I strongly urge you to reconsider moving forward on any further steps to eliminate a majority of the maritime forest until all community input and environmental impact reviews have been done. Thank you for your consideration of this request.
Please don’t hesitate to contact my Mount Pleasant office at 843-352-7572 with any further questions.
With kind regards,
I remain Very truly yours,
Member of Congress South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District