By Brian Sherman for The Island Eye News
The Isle of Palms Council that will be sworn in Jan. 4 will not have to deal with the city’s long-running battle with Tidal Wave Water Sports after all.
At a special meeting Dec. 22, the Council voted by a 6-1 margin to approve a settlement agreement that brings to a close all litigation between the two parties and paves the way for a public park to be built at the IOP Marina, where Michael and Mark Fiem have operated Tidal Wave since 2005.
Both sides agreed to pay their own attorneys’ fees and court costs. Tidal Wave, which was already closed for the season, paid its rent at the Marina through December 2021.
Randy Bell, who did not seek re-election and is retiring from the Council, was not at the meeting, while Rusty Streetman, who has two years left on his term, provided the only “nay” vote – with an explanation. He was unhappy with what he called the Council’s lack of transparency.
“I’m in favor of a settlement. I do not want to drag this out. But I am going to vote nay on this issue, and the reason I’m going to vote nay is the nature and the process of the way we called this meeting today,” Streetman said. “Back on Dec. 7, we left a special Council meeting. Basically, tacitly and later on in The Island Eye News in a front-page article, saying that we would not have another Council meeting for the remainder of the year and that this would be brought over to the next Council. I think that’s the right thing to do.”
Streetman pointed out that the Dec. 22 meeting was scheduled on Dec. 17 and that during the holiday season, many island residents are either on vacation or hosting family members from out of town.
“They’re not sitting there looking at IOP.net and don’t even know that we’re having this meeting,” he added. “I think we’re going to have some blowback on this by us rushing into this at the 11th hour, making the decision to settle now rather than taking it into next year, as we implied, pretty explicitly, that we were going to do. We’ve been criticized before, and I’ll say rightfully so in this case, of not being transparent and not having good communication.”
Phillip Pounds, who will take over as the city’s new mayor Jan. 4, said that during the short executive session that preceded the vote, he learned from City Attorney Brent Halversen that it could have taken two years for all the lawsuits between Tidal Wave and the city to be settled.
Both Susan Hill Smith and Ryan Buckhannon agreed that it was time to move on.
“Kicking the can down the road is one of the problems citizens have with this Council,” Buckhannon commented. “That’s not good government. We need to take a stand. We’ve been working on this thing for two years. There’s nobody more qualified to make this vote than the Council that’s sitting here right now.”
“It’s time for this chapter to end. Let’s get it over with. Let’s start the new Council off with a clean slate,” Mayor Jimmy Carroll commented.
Before they considered the agreement, Blair Hahn, who will be installed as a member of the Council on Jan. 4, encouraged current members to end the dispute that started in July 2019, when the city informed Tidal Wave that its lease would not be renewed beyond September 2020. A trial lawyer for more than 30 years, Hahn pointed out that there are only two reasons to pursue civil litigation: to set a precedent or for monetary gain. He said neither reason makes sense in this case because “I view this as a one-off situation and continued litigation has no value to deter this type of behavior in the future,” and “by the time the city gets a judgment against tidal Wave, any existing source of payment will have dissipated.”
“Revenge is not an appropriate reason to pursue litigation,” Hahn said. “This Council has taken the high road with the Tidal Wave defendants for two years. Let’s not now stoop to their level by taking petty actions in an attempt to punish them.”
Michael Fiem called the end of the dispute “bittersweet.”
“Obviously, I’m happy that they can’t continue to try to bleed us of money,” he said. “At the same time, I’m still upset, and I still believe we were right. It’s unfortunate when you try to battle the government. You don’t have the taxpayers’ money to work with.”
Tidal Wave will continue to operate at the Sea Breeze Marina in Charleston and on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant.
“We’re never going to recover from losing Isle of Palms and the tourist traffic,” Fiem said.