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Op-Ed: Department Of Health And Environmental Control Says That Permits Are Needed For Mass Cutting Of Maritime Forest

By Sullivan’s Island For All for The Island Eye News

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) issued a letter to Sullivan’s Island stating that because the “level of tree removal is significant” under the controversial Maritime Forest Lawsuit Settlement, a Major Critical Area Permit from DHEC would be required if the town wishes to pursue the plan. 

“DHEC found that in certain areas, 96% of all trees would be removed,” said President of Sullivan’s Island for All Karen Byko. “Studies by three federal agencies including NOAA and FEMA show that the density and height of vegetation and trees is our most important protection from our No. 1 threat on the island: hurricane storm surge.” 

The majority of residents on Sullivan’s Island believe this mass cutting would make all residents less safe and put our private and public properties at higher risk to the effects of climate change and sea level rise. Further, DHEC’s Bureau of Water’s Coastal Stormwater Permitting Section indicated that they had concerns about how the change in land cover would impact stormwater runoff. This response from DHEC shows that this plan is environmentally unsound, and goes far beyond vegetation thinning and trimming. As Sullivan’s Island Mayor Pat O’Neil said early on, this proposed cutting is “legally mandated deforestation.” This controversial settlement is also legally suspect, according to former Federal Appeals Court Chief Judge William Wilkins, who told the town the settlement is “invalid and unenforceable.” “As DHEC’s stormwater division noted, removing these thousands of trees and shrubs puts the island at much greater risk of flooding,” Byko said. “These trees work as nature’s stormwater pumps. Taking them away for better views puts every homeowner on the island at greater risk.” 

Sullivan’s Island for All strongly urges the Town Council to follow the advice of former Federal Judge Wilkins and pursue judicial relief to overturn this environmentally unsound settlement as expeditiously as possible. No part of this plan should be allowed to impede this or future Council’s ability to legislate or manage this public land in the best interests of all islanders.

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