The Captain Sams Spit Saga:
The Half-Mile Long Revetment/Bulkhead System

KDP applied for a permit to construct a 2,783-foot long, 40-foot wide articulated concrete block revetment and bulkhead system along the Kiawah River at Captain Sams Inlet at the south end of Kiawah Island. The revetment/bulkhead would cover nearly 3 acres of public sandy shoreline on the Kiawah River. The purpose of the revetment/bulkhead would be to stop erosion and to stabilize the shoreline so that KDP can build a road toa proposed upscale residential development on the pristine, narrow spit of land known as Captain Sams Spit.

On December 18, 2008, DHEC/OCRM denied most of the request, allowing only a 270-foot revetment along the edge of the parking lot at Beachwalker Park, the only public access on Kiawah. In early 2009, we appealed the issuance of the 270 feet of revetment/bulkhead system and sought to uphold the denial of the remaining 2,513 feet of structure. KDP also challenged the denial of the 2,513 feet of the revetment/bulkhead system.

Judge Anderson conducted a hearing in August 2009.On January 22, 2010, Judge Anderson reversed the denial and granted the full length of the revetment structure with some very minor limitations. We filed amotion to reconsider and for stay with the ALC on February 2, 2010. On February26, 2010, Judge Anderson issued an Amended Final Order and an Order denying our motion for reconsideration and denying our motion for stay.

Enter the Supreme Court:

1st Ruling

We filed an appeal in the Court of Appeals on March 26, 2010 and simultaneously filed a Petition for Supersedeas seeking an injunction to prevent any construction activity. On April 22, 2010, we filed a successful Motion to Transfer the case to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also granted our Petition for Supersedeas on July 23, 2010, saving the spit from further construction until the case was decided by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court heard arguments on January 18, 2011 and issued its first opinion on November 21, 2011, which was a sweeping victory for Captain Sams Spit and for protection of our coastal resources.

Amy Armstrong fighting hard for Captain Sams Spit at the Supreme Court in 2011

2nd Ruling

KDP asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision and the Court held arguments for the second time on April 17, 2012. On February 27, 2013, the Supreme Court issued an extremely unusual, and very disappointing, decision completely reversing its 2011 decision. It was also unusual in that there were three separate opinions – two Justices signed the “Court’s Opinion” and one Justice concurred with the result of the Court’s Opinion but wrote his own Opinion in which his analysis agrees with the Opinion of the dissent.

3rd Ruling

Committed to using all available legal tools to advocate against an ill-conceived project to build houses on the dynamic Spit, we quickly developed a strategy for asking the Supreme Court to “rehear” its decision. Working with Professor Robert Bockman at the USC School of Law, we filed a Petition for Rehearing on March 14, 2013, urging the Court to reconsider its reversal. We also worked with several outdoor, recreational, educational and tourism groups who filed Amicus Curiae Briefs in support of our rehearing request. On May 2, 2014, the Supreme Court notified us that it granted our Petition for Rehearing. The Court heard arguments in this case for the third time on June 5, 2014.

On December 10, 2014, the Supreme Court issued its third ruling in our fight to protect the pristine 150-acre Captain Sams Spit. The Supreme Court ruled that there is no public benefit to covering the sandy shoreline of the Kiawah River with a hard erosion control structure, that the only benefit is an economic benefit to the developer. The Supreme Court also ruled that DHEC has the authority to consider upland impacts of development that flow from critical area permit impacts. The case isa landmark decision because of its announcement that tidelands must be used for the maximum benefit to the public rather than solely benefiting a private developer; that the state must consider upland impacts naturally flowing from a proposed project; and its reverence for public access to, and use of, public trust resources.

Judge Anderson forces a 4th Ruling

The Supreme Court remanded the case back to Judge Anderson for consideration in light of its rulings. Judge Anderson requested numerous legal briefings and conducted several hearings between December of 2014 and December of 2015. On December 16, 2015, Judge Anderson issued an Order on Remand that appeared to authorize some erosion control structure on Captain Sams. The Order was less than clear to us, DHEC and KDP, and all three parties filed motions asking the Judge to reconsider his order. On February 4, 2016, Judge Anderson suspended his Order on Remand.

On March 22, 2016, Judge Anderson issued two orders: (1) an Order Granting the Motions for Clarification and Denying the Motions for Reconsideration; and (2) an Amended Final Order and Decision, in which he explicitly authorized the entire 2,783-foot length of the bulkhead and the 40-foot wide revetment for the 270-foot length of Beachwalker Park.

On March 23, 2016, we filed a motion asking Judge Anderson to impose a stay on his Amended Final Order and Decision on remand authorizing the structure. On March 30, 2016, we simultaneously filed a Notice of Appeal and Motion to Transfer the matter from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court. On April 15, after CCL and KDP submitted written arguments, Judge Anderson issued an order preventing the construction of the vertical bulkhead he approved. On May 20, 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to hear our challenge to Judge Anderson's order on remand.

On September 27, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments, and on April 18, 2018, the Court issued a resounding Opinion reversing Judge Anderson's decision to allow construction of the 2,513 feet of vertical bulkhead. This was a major victory in our overall efforts to protect Captain Sams Spit!

Read the Supreme Court Opinion from 2018

Amy Armstrong in the same seat, giving oral arguments in the Supreme Court in 2017
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