Wildlife and Habitat Conservation

Bay Point Island

Since 2016, developers have attempted to build a luxury resort on Bay Point Island, a biologically rich barrier island at the mouth of Port Royal Sound. The plan includes 50 villas, shops, restaurants, bars, spas and fitness centers, along with 10 septic systems.
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What's the Problem?

Cloaked under a carefully constructed guise of environmental sustainability, Thailand-based Six Senses Hotels and Resorts is seeking to build a luxury resort on a pristine and dynamic barrier island in Beaufort County located at the mouth of Port Royal Sound.

Bay Point is incredibly vulnerable to sea level rise and increasing storm frequency, as you can see in these photos taken in November 2020.

The erosion on the southeast end is so severe that the lone house, sitting amongst the downed trees on the beach, is completely underwashed at high tide and slowly succumbing to the ocean.

Whoever built that house surely believed it was in a safe, stable location, but as with all our coastal barrier islands, Bay Point is a highly dynamic and constantly shifting sand mass. It will only be a matter of time before the proposed development faces the same fate.

Bay Point Island supports extremely diverse wildlife habitats; is designated an Audubon “Important Bird Area;” and provides loggerhead turtle nesting habitat. Moreover, Bay Point is a historic site for the Gullah/Geechee, who have relied on fishing in that area to sustain their families, their livelihood, and their culture.

The proposed development would destroy this valuable cultural resource and fragile habitat by constructing up to 50 units, a spa, wellness center, fitness center, restaurants and bars on this shifting island. 

‍Missing the Point

The developer first sought a written determination from the Beaufort County Staff Review Team that the project meets the definition of “ecotourism” contained in the county’s development code. This determination is a prerequisite to obtaining a special use permit to move forward with the project.

In December 2019, Beaufort County rejected the developer’s request on the basis that “the proposed plans … more appropriately fit the definition of a Resort. As a result, the proposed use is an Accommodations use and more specifically Recreation Facility: Commercial Outdoor and Indoor which are not permitted within the T1 zoning district.”

But then in May 2020, the County suddenly reversed course, rescinded its earlier decision, and paved the way for the developer to obtain a special use permit and move forward with this ill-planned and risky project.

The project has been met with pushback from conservation groups, the Gullah/Geechee community, thousands of local citizens and elected officials, including Governor Henry McMaster, S.C. Sen. Chip Campsen, S.C. Rep. Shannon Erikson and former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham.

On September 24, 2020, Beaufort County zoning board unanimously rejected plans to build a luxury resort on Bay Point Island following overwhelming opposition from citizens, elected officials and our conservation partners.

On November 5, 2020, the developers appealed the zoning board's decision that blocked the resort plans. We continue our vehement opposition to this project and we are prepared to protect Bay Point from this senseless development with whatever legal means necessary.

On November 17, 2020, on behalf of the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association, we filed a motion to intervene in Bay Point Island, LLC’s (BPI) appeal of the Beaufort County zoning board's decision that blocked the developer’s plans to build a luxury resort on Bay Point Island. You can read the motion to intervene below.

BPI is challenging the zoning board’s denial of a special use permit for “ecotourism” for the proposed resort and requested mediation before the appeal goes to court. In the motion for intervention, the Association also seeks involvement with the pre-litigation mediation.

“We are filing this motion on the heels of the developer’s appeal because we recognize the urgency of the Association’s early involvement, particularly with a pre-litigation mediation that could re-open the door for this harmful project on the horizon,” said Amy Armstrong, the executive director of SCELP.

Case Update

On July 21, 2022, Circuit Court judge Marvin Dukes upheld the Beaufort County Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision to deny a special permit to Bay Point Island, LLC for the construction of a luxury resort on Bay Point Island. The developer appealed the ruling in December of 2022, but dropped their challenge in February of 2023 - another step closer to a permanent conservation outcome for the ecologically and culturally significant Bay Point Island!

“Rest assured that our Gullah/Geechee ancestors that worked the waters surrounding Bay Point and who no doubt left tracks in its sands of that place are pleased that a resort will not destroy it,” said Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation. “We pray that the land will now officially become the ‘preserve’ that it is zoned as by Beaufort County and be conserved, preserved and protected for future generations of not only the native people here, but also the future generations of sea creatures and birds that will be born there as this place is left under disturbed by destructionment."

Septic Tank Permit

Because the case has been pending before the Circuit Court for over a year, we became concerned that the developer might make other attempts to facilitate development on this dynamic island. And we were right. We submitted multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to DHEC, but it consistently denied the existence of any permit applications. 

Despite DHEC’s failure to provide us the requested information, in late October 2021, we discovered through the County that the agency had in fact issued the developer a septic tank permit. We promptly filed an appeal to the DHEC Board in November asking it to reverse the staff decision. 

Septic Tank Permit Update

On January 17, 2022, we filed a request for contested case hearing on behalf of the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association before the South Carolina Administrative Law Court. According to the appeal, DHEC failed to conduct the statutorily required Coastal Zone Consistency review for the application and violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to produce documentation of the permit application and issuance, thereby preventing the Association from discovering the pendency of the application and commenting on an activity that would directly impact its members. DHEC does not place septic tank applications on public notice; yet the staff took the position before the DHEC Board that the appeal of the permit was untimely.

Installation of a septic system on such a dynamic and low-lying island, with predominantly sand soils, poses a risk of contamination to surrounding waters and marine life.  

“Not only is the septic tank permit inappropriate on the island, but also DHEC has shirked its duty to produce public documents that were clearly requested.  This failure has placed in the Association in a difficult procedural posture and now must fight over the timeliness of their appeal,” said SCELP attorney Leslie Lenhardt. 

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