By Rob Byko for Island Eye News
At 8:30 a.m., Chauncey Clark gaveled in the Land Use and Natural Resource (LUNR) meeting in the SI Town Council Chambers, welcoming fellow committee members Kaye Smith and Mayor Pat O’Neil and an eager crowd in attendance to hear discussions of the “team selection for review of the accreted Land Management Plan for consideration at the Oct. 7, 2019 Council workshop.” Clark then opened the floor for public comments which brought the morning’s pleasantries among neighbors to an abrupt end.
Council member Bachman Smith opened public remarks, saying he didn’t understand “what the urgency is, when we know we’re in some litigation over the very words that were used by Council member Clark to explain why he wanted to do this.” Smith then recalled Clark’s statement at the Sept. 17 full Council Meeting describing the objectives for hiring a panel of experts. “The last two words he (Clark) used when describing the study were ‘views and breezes.’ ”
Smith also recalled Council member Tim Reese stating in response to Council member Sara Church’s questions about why the experts were being hired, “Reese replied ‘flat out, yes, this is about the trees.’ ”
Bachman Smith also said that the idea of dunes formation needs to be addressed now. “We know we face a weather event annually, if not bi-annually or more, (which) can inundate this island with flooding and storm water. When the sea levels do rise, it’s going to come from the back side of the island. Threefoot of rise has water coming across Middle Street.”
Smith concluded, “(What) I want to know is why all the urgency and who all have we been vetting before we go down this process?” Smith’s comments were met with applause. Clark quieted the crowd with a strike from his gavel.
Anne Marie Brown then spoke. “When I think of storm surge and hurricanes I feel a little bit like a sitting duck.” She liked the idea of an island-wide plan. “I don’t know how anyone can find fault with this (plan), or with the council, in trying to bolster our resiliency.”
Council member Sara Church then took to the speaker’s podium. “This is the second study we have not budgeted for that has been approved in the last month. We are very early in the fiscal year, a time when the public has the opportunity to weigh in on the agenda that we’ve set for the year. At this rate, we’re not doing well.” She said, “The process is backwards. We’re looking at team members today when we have not discussed what we’re going to address (in) the management plan. Council has not discussed and approved this would be the method.”
Susan Middaugh observed that the work already underway in the Transition Zone provides the opportunity to evaluate the effects of removal of foliage. “This is kind of a testing area which we see already with some of the heavy equipment that it is turning the soil to sand. It would be premature to decide that we would want to take that up for the rest of the 190 acres. What kind of damage vegetation removal is doing.”
Other concerned residents spoke, and then Clark read a statement by Council member Greg Hammond. “The accreted land is a highly divisive topic on this island, this is clear.” Hammond’s statement acknowledged the people who came to the meeting to express their “deep and personal belief and opinions on this issue.” He thanked them for being part of the conversation. “It is our job as elected officials in this town to hear all sides of an issue and take measured action that incorporates concerns from and addresses the desires of all our island residents. We must not simply ignore a group of citizens because our opinions and beliefs may be at odds, we also must not cater to a group of citizens simply because they are louder and more vocal.”
Keil Schmid, a new homeowner on the island, told the Committee “I’m a coastal geologist. One of the reasons why I chose my house was because of the protective forest that was there.” He said, “I’d map the area, look at things, so there is also an economical tax base foundation for having (the forest) there. That is one of the reasons why I chose to live on Sullivan’s Island.”
Joe Church, a SC-licensed civil engineer (spouse of Council member Sara Church), questioned the Committee’s adherence to the state’s and the town’s procurement rules, encouraging them to slow down and become more transparent so that the citizens can see exactly what is before them. “It’s important that you lay out all the procedures and all the pieces so that the taxpayers can see when you’re spending thousands of dollars on the fly, like what (Council) did for the park to look at turning it into a parking lot.”
Chairman Clark closed the public’s comments with “We are all talking about things that concern us, we all love our island, we all have feelings about our island and how we should carry it forward.”
Clark then read his own prepared statement into the record. Saying in part, “Climate change poses a risk for Sullivan’s Island through the intensity and frequency of storm events, rising sea water and rising ground water levels. Sullivan’s Island is fortunate to have town-owned accreted land that, managed properly, can enhance the resiliency of the island and improve the quality of life for our citizens. The intent of this team to look at the key elements of resiliency, storm protection, mosquito control and others to make recommendations to become a menu for us to follow and modify or reject. This is just a menu of items that we want to put forth from a new set of eyes based upon what we’ve been doing for the last 8 years.”
Speaking expeditiously, Clark then read the full motion into the record, quickly seconded by Council member Kaye Smith.
Those in the audience objected, calling out, “We can’t hear you.” With that, Clark re-read his motion a second time more deliberately so the audience could hear. Smith again seconded the motion. The motion appeared to substantially expand the scope of work the team would be hired to perform, as discussed at the Sept. 17 Town Council meeting, and as put forth on the LUNR meeting agenda. The motion then was open to discussion by the committee.
Mayor O’Neil stated, “That’s a lengthy motion. I didn’t get the copy that you all have in the motion so it was difficult for me to follow.” The Mayor indicated that he had some prior discussions with Clark “at some length.” O’Neil said, “I do agree this is a little bit backwards. It’s kind of like we’re having a pro-sports draft, but we don’t know what sport we are going to play. Until we actually have some good idea on what the scope of the project is and should be, I think it’s very premature to even consider individuals, however well-qualified they might be. My question is which fields do we need? Which fields of expertise do we need? And we don’t know that until we know what we’re trying to do.”
He continued, “Since transparency has been mentioned, is the agenda item… Accreted Land Management Plan, rather than what (the committee is now) describing which is a much broader, and perhaps commendably so, a much broader scope of work, that I don’t think we’ve properly advertised.”
Council member Kaye Smith offered, “I think we’re going back to the intent of the (Accreted Land) Management Plan to begin with, which states ‘Therefore, it is expected that the town engage appropriately trained professionals to translate the Management Plan objectives and approaches into a detailed plan which will be acceptable to all town citizens. These detailed plans will be the blueprint that the town will cause to be executed under appropriate direction.’”
“Now, what we put in the scope of work, or what Council member Clark put in the scope of work, would include review of the entire island, ‘boundary including foreshore, backshore, and inlet harbor elements, which takes in resiliency for the entire island’.” She concluded, “I think resiliency is of the utmost importance and that is what we’re including in this and that is the impetus for this plan.”
She then read an overview of the qualifications for each proposed team member and followed up with, “We are all concerned about resiliency and flooding. Climate resilient planning should be our number one goal. This is about hiring a team of professionals to give scientific, safe recommendations on how we can manage what we can do to become more resilient and safe.” To that, several residents asked for the committee to define the word “resiliency.” The committee provided no comment.
In a final comment, Mayor O’Neil stated, “I think that it’s very, very premature to be selecting people when we don’t have a very clear idea of what we want them to do.” His comment was rewarded by applause from the gallery.
Despite objection, Clark closed the meeting with a vote, saying, “I suggest that we carry forward with the motion and then carry forward with (Mayor O’Neil’s) comments about scope of work.” In essence, hire the team then figure out what to do. The vote was called, Clark and Kaye Smith voted to approve; O’Neil opposed. The motion passed.
Clark stated “We’re going to have a team of experts in a room. They’re going to have a wide variety of knowledge. This is just a beginning. You can’t possibly imagine all this coming together in a two-day meeting.” He summarized, “This is a kickoff meeting that says “We reviewed your island, we reviewed your plan, and these are the elements that I think you are strong on, these are the elements you are weak on. We carry forward from this meeting a list of things to go for. That is what this is about.”