Editorial: Due process needed in coastal development cases

A court ruling in Columbia last week could spell trouble for environmental protection all along the South Carolina coast.

A decision by Chief Administrative Law Judge Ralph King Anderson III would enable developers to build a half-mile long, steel sheet pile wall, road, sewer lines and water lines to a spit of shifting sand south of Kiawah Island.

In doing so, the court lifted an "automatic stay" to halt this foolishness while it is being challenged in court.

It only makes sense to hold off on harmful development that may not, in the end, be permitted. Why ruin the environment, only to find out later that it should not have been done? It makes no sense.

"The (decision) flies in the face of the Supreme Court's 2014 ruling recognizing that development interests cannot outweigh the public's interest in protection of South Carolina's iconic landscapes," said Amy Armstrong of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, which is challenging development of Captain Sams Spit.

Conservationists filed an emergency appeal directly to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which will hopefully restore common sense to what has been a six-year legal wrangle over plans to put 50 homes on a volatile strip of sand.

Also, the Coastal Conservation League is circulating online a petition asking Gov. Nikki Haley to permanently protect Captain Sams Spit.

"Captain Sams Spit is one of only three remaining publicly accessible, undeveloped barrier island spits in the state," the Coastal Conservation League says. "It is a critically important public trust resource providing habitat to a variety of rare, threatened and endangered species."

The "automatic stay" is desperately needed in the Lowcountry, which is rapidly being paved over. Yet the "automatic stay" also is under fire in the legislature. Some legislators want to eliminate it by law, thus trumping due process and paving the way for foolish development in all the wrong places.

We urge the public to support the South Carolina Environmental Law Project and the Coastal Conservation League in this fight and the subsequent fight in the legislature. We urge Beaufort County residents to make it clear to local legislators that the "automatic stay" and due process in court are vital to our economy and way of life.