Sullivan’s Island Town Council Meeting: Tuesday, November 20, 2018

By Gregg Bragg, The Island Eye News Staff Writer

The agenda for Town of Sullivan’s Island town council meetings is usually measured in hectares; both sides of an 8.5/14 sheet of paper. It was quite a bit shorter for the meeting at Town Hall on Nov. 20. However, the items on the smaller sheet were highly concentrated and drew a large audience with plenty of thoughts to contribute during citizen’s comments.

Mayor O’Neil once again reminded attendees Sullivan’s is a small island (e.g. friends and neighbors all) as he urged civility to open citizen’s comments. Sullivan’s Town Council strictly enforces a two-minute limit on comments complete with a claxon to note expired time. There’s no resetting the timer so interruptions/reactions are strongly discouraged, as are questions that seek to engage Council in open-ended discussion. Level setting complete, residents sidled up to the microphone.

Resident Rick Reed complained of a post surgery hangover, but felt restoration of the Crab Bank was important enough to show up.

The issue of the maritime forest and “transition zone” fell with a thud last month, but was back on November’s agenda and occupied the remainder of citizen’s comments. Resident Brian Gullily asked the rhetorical question; “Why change what we’ve agreed to?” Non-resident David Quick characterized the agreement as “a clear-cutting plan not a management plan,” and Sullivan’s resident Fred Pittman suggested clearing only the beach access points. Resident Ned Henninger also urged Council to cut less.

Residents Maria Andrews, Cindy Ewing, and Costal Conservation League representative Caroline Bradner had longer presentations that reiterated last month’s points.

To summarize;

  • There’s never been a maritime forest fire
  • It’s not a fire hazard according to the experts at Firewise
  • The land being cleared (12-17 acres) is too large
  • Managing it will cost too much, and is unnecessary
  • It’s a buffer against erosion, flooding and hurricane damage

Resident and former TOSI Councilmember Susan Middaugh had a different take than her presentation last month. “Why all this fuss about myrtles? Myrtles are a keystone maritime species.

Myrtles are the first woody shrubs to grow behind new dune lines. And these backdune shrubs are essential for trapping windblown sand to broaden the dunes. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, it is not just the height, but especially the breadth of the dunes that serve a protective function. “Myrtles can grow in this harsh back-dune environment of sandy, nutrient poor soil because they are nitrogen fixing shrubs. This vital quality, and the high mineral content of their leaves are the key to preparing the soil for more diverse maritime vegetation including smaller trees, and then oaks. Myrtles are salt tolerant and provide a shield for other plants to develop in their salt shadow. Every small oak in our accreted land stands in the shelter of one or more myrtles.

“Myrtles can tolerate cyclical drought and flooding that are basic features of the accreted land where they predominate today. If sea oats and grasses could grow there, they would already be there. Those who think we can simply remove the myrtles and plant sea oats, sweet grass, or oaks in the same location, don’t understand the ecology. We need to recognize that when we remove the myrtles, we are choosing to remove a key species that is at the heart of the maritime environment. This should be done sparingly and with care,” concluded Middaugh. She received a hearty second to her comments from resident Ms. Pittman.

The first of TOSI’s action items was the approval of minutes from last month’s Council meeting, as well a set from a special council meeting held on November 5. Councilmember Rita Langley moved for some corrections, which were approved along with the minutes.

TOSI’s plastic ban, ordinance 2018—06, won unanimous ratification upon its third reading. Councilmember Langley won congratulations as the leader of the push, with the support of Councilmembers Bachman Smith, and Sarah Church. “Eat our dust,” said Mayor O’Neil in response to the question [asked earlier in the meeting]; “Are you aware IOP is considering a stronger plastics ordinance to keep up with Sullivan’s, and do you have any comment on the escalating “ban wars?”

Ordinance 2018-07, a measure updating Sullivan’s Island’s nonconforming structures law was read for the third time, but not without a hitch. Councilmember Mark Howard asked if the definition of “porches” was clear enough, or if the ordinance’s language needed massaging. TOSI’s attorney weighed in saying the definition of a porch was generally understood for these purposes. The measure was unanimously ratified.

Ordinance 2018-08 was read into the record for the first time. The measure will increase business license fees and passed unanimously.

 Ordinance 2018-09 was read into the record for the first time in an effort to sync Town statutes with the wording used by the state of South Carolina.

TOSI then passed a resolution to raise the fees for building permits, as well as a resolution affirming the Town’s safety practices, a method required to keep insurance rates low on the island. The pace of the meeting ground to a crawl as attention turned to the transition zone.

All attempts to amend or even pass the town’s Accreted Land Management Plan fell with a thud during October’s Council meeting. The concern was TOSI would have to start from scratch, including the approvals of cumbersome state agencies, so Council was determined to have another run at the solution. The core proposal is as follows; “

Band I (0-40 feet):

  • All non-native invasive species of flora shall be eradicated.
  • All trees > 6” DBH shall be retained, except cedar and pine species
  • All understory, shrubs (including myrtles), cedar and pine species and small trees (defined as < 6” DBH) shall be removed

Band II (40-100 feet):

  • All non-native invasive species of flora shall be eradicated
  • All trees shall be retained within this band
  • Where the band is adjacent to the forest areas: All understory, shrubs and myrtles shall be removed
  • Where the band is adjacent to grasslands, shrub and non-forest areas: Three-quarters (75%) of all existing myrtles shall be removed as will any that sprout in their place. 25% of myrtles shall remain in those areas where myrtles currently exist.”
  1. Councilmember Church moved to replace the word “removed” with “cut.” A lengthy debate ensued, but the amendment was accepted despite “no” votes by Councilmembers Clark and Reese.
  2. Councilmember Smith moved to retain everything in band 2 except invasive species. The support of Howard and Church, however, was not enough and the motion failed.
  3. Mayor O’Neil moved to add “band 2 shall not extend east beyond station 28.5 (e.g. the dome house),” and won unanimous support.
  4. Councilmember Church moved to retain all myrtles in the last 15 feet of zone 2, and the amendment was ultimately accepted.

There was an awkward silence, the vote was taken, and the Accreted Land Management Plan was ratified as amended. “Well, I am relieved,” said Mayor O’Neil.

The meeting picked up the pace again. Council quickly approved its 2019 meeting schedule, approved a motion authorizing Thomas and Hutton to proceed with Phase I of an in-flight storm drainage project and to begin planning of the Phase II counterpart. Each of the hazard mitigation efforts have about a million dollars of Federal Emergency Management Agency grant money available, which Town Administrator Andy Benke warned would not completely cover the costs of the projects.

Benke continued with his Town Administrator’s report to Council by announcing open positions on the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Planning Commission.

Reporting for the Administrative Committee, Councilmember Reese reminded TOSI a vote on increasing fees for dog licenses is on the horizon. The plan is to increase the cost of permits for “off island” dogs from $35 – $50. He also floated the idea of instituting fees of $50 (residents) and $100 (non-residents) for fires on the beach.

He said the problem with “free” fires is people don’t clean up after themselves despite the threat of fines.

There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting of the Sullivan’s Island Town Council will be held Dec. 18.

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