Development plans worrisome for Okatie

Disappointing, but not surprising, is the best way to describe news that development plans are moving ahead for Pinckney Point on a narrow peninsula between the Okatie and Colleton rivers.

The plans continue to include multiple docks with 10 boat slips each for a 76-lot community. The implications for the Okatie River -- already closed to shellfish harvesting and whose recovery has been the subject of numerous studies and millions of dollars in public spending -- aren't good. That's a lot of potential activity for such a sensitive water body.

Add a boat slip to any one of these docks and it meets the state definition of a marina, which would not be allowed in these waters.

The developers had first asked for seven docks with 10 boat slips and lifts each. Six of the docks were to be in the Okatie and one in the Colleton.

But in 2008, those plans were turned down by state regulators based on water quality concerns. The state approved three docks and a boat ramp for the project. Both the developer and Beaufort County appealed that decision; the developer to increase the number and the county to reduce it.

In its appeal, the county likened the docks to a marina because of their size, location and the potential damage they could cause the rivers. It argued the state violated water-quality regulations by not considering alternatives to constructing the docks and boat lifts.

In 2009, an Administrative Law Court judge dealt the county a blow when he ruled the county had no legal standing in the case. He dismissed the county's contention that it need only show an "overriding public concern" about the docks and not "an actual and imminent injury to its statutory rights or proprietary interests."

The judge approved five docks, and in a settlement with the county, the developer has agreed to build only four.

Issues over a road leading to the property also have been settled out of court.

We look again to Palmetto Bluff as an example for the Pinckney Point developers.

Palmetto Bluff -- with more than 20,000 acres and miles of May River waterfront -- has only three community boat docks and two kayak docks along the river, none in the river's sensitive headwaters area. It has successfully sold itself based on its environmental stewardship.

That suggests 230-acre Pinckney Point can do well with a single community dock.

We appeal to the developer to do better by the Okatie and Colleton rivers. Just because the docks can be built doesn't mean they have to be.