Congress to Consider Status of South Carolina Beach Property

August 18, 2008

A coastal South Carolina congressman is seeking to allow an undeveloped section of Kiawah Island beachfront to qualify for federal money for roads, flood insurance and renourishment, making it more attractive for development.

U.S. Rep. Henry Brown introduced a bill this summer to remove a section of the island from the protections of the federal Coastal Barrier Resources System. Land within the system does not qualify for such things as federal flood insurance.

The Charleston Post and Courier reports Kiawah Development Partners wants to build up to 50 homes on 20 acres of a spit of land near Capt. Sam’s Inlet. They plan to donate 100 more acres in the tract to a nature conservancy.

Federal flood insurance can cost thousands of dollars less than private policies. Some environmentalists say taxpayers should not have to subsidize risky development.

“They are just doing this so they can sell the land more easily and make more money,” said Nancy Vinson, a project manager with the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League.

But developer Leonard Long Jr. says it’s about equity and that other landowners on the island qualify for federal flood insurance.

“While some might prefer to have this land remain undeveloped, that is not an option,” he said. “These lands will be developed, albeit in a careful way that is emblematic of Kiawah.”

Brown’s bill would also add 25 acres of high ground and 153 acres of marsh elsewhere on Kiawah to the Barrier Resources System. It noted the developers could have put as many as 504 dwellings on the spit.

It’s rare for Congress to modify the barrier system, although it has done so three times in 26 years in South Carolina.

Duke University geologist Orin Pilkey, who opposes building near the inlet, said he would be surprised if Congress made the change.

“They tried to do that in North Topsail Beach (N.C.), which is crowded with buildings, but they’ve failed,” he said.

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