Even with short notice, almost 100 people joined the March 16 Town Council Meeting, which started with a brief introduction by the Town’s Attorney, Derk Van Raalte, of a New Settlement Agreement between the plaintiffs and the Town in the Bluestein lawsuit.
Despite the implied promise of details on this New Settlement Agreement, Mr Van Raalte instead referred the public to the Comparison Chart included in the Agenda Packet. In other words, Town Council is leaving it to us to uncover the impact on our public safety, public health, FEMA rates, taxes and community resilience, by studying a chart in type so small that even a magnifying glass won’t bring the information into focus.
While Mr Van Raalte characterized the Original Settlement as a “broad strokes plan”, it was, in fact, laid out in detail, with specific species and diameter of trees and shrubs identified for removal by Zone, and accompanied by a color-coded tree survey.
The plaintiffs acknowledged that the Settlement approved by the Court was “a legally binding document” and that the consideration provided was “adequate”.
The Settlement explicitly stated that “permitting would be required through OCRM.” And the Parties agreed that “neither of the parties shall directly or indirectly, individually or through others, endeavor to interfere with the permitting process” or “appeal the issuance of any permits”. Let me repeat…”neither party shall directly or indirectly, individually or through others, endeavor to interfere with the permitting process”.
Army Corps has jurisdiction over wetlands. DHEC/OCRM has jurisdiction over land that runs seaward of the OCRM setback line — a line that runs the length of the island. The purpose of this line is to ensure protection of vegetation that helps prevent erosion in critically important areas. A barrier island, after all, is simply a sand bar upon which soil stabilizing plants have taken root to knit the island together. Remove the vegetation, and you remove stability and protection from winds and storm surge. The closer you get to the beach and waves and damaging storm surge, the more protection you need.
Now because it has become clear that the OCRM setback line, which, according to Mr. Van Raalte was known when the deal was negotiated, “goes in hundreds of feet from the beach nearly to the backyards of adjacent homeowners”, particularly in Zone 3, from the elementary school to 28.5, and because the wetlands delineation, which could have been done by the Plaintiffs as part of their due diligence, has revealed a significant amount of wetlands, the team (the team working for the Town and Town Council, not the plaintiffs) is proposing a brand new deal in order to “stand the best chance of securing regulatory approval” and to allow the plaintiffs to get the relief they sought: “breezes and ocean views”.
In Town Council’s New Settlement Agreement, to advantage the plaintiffs, they propose moving the OCRM setback line in Zone 3 closer to the beach to an arbitrarily selected dune ridge, so that they can cut more vegetation behind it without needing a permit from DHEC. They propose to cut almost all of the myrtles to 3’ (from 5’), allow the pruning of
vegetation seaward of the setback line — without height restriction — so long as they can get an arborist to opine it won’t “likely” kill the plant; and have introduced painting of tree stumps with herbicide/poison so that trees don’t grow back (in an area filled with wetlands).
I understand why the Plaintiffs don’t like the deal they negotiated, but I don’t understand why the Town and Town Council, who have an obligation to represent all islanders, would be working so hard on behalf of the plaintiffs in the permitting process.