An interesting development vs. environment saga has been transpiring in Beaufort County for the last few years. In 2016, the town council of Hilton Head voted to accept an application for the annexation of Bay Point Island, a vulnerable barrier island at the mouth of Port Royal sound. But two storms and the knowledge of the historical and ecological significance of the island caused the council to back away, and the island has remained largely untouched.
The island currently has no infrastructure and is only accessible by boat or air.
The island is a refuge for thousands of shorebirds and seabirds and the home of other wildlife, including threatened sea turtles. It also protects fragile marshland and water rich in fish and other marine life. Beaufort County has designated Bay Point a “T1 Natural Preserve”, the county’s most restrictive rural zoning designation.
The county development code states this designation is “intended to preserve areas that contain sensitive habitats, open space and limited agricultural uses. This Zone typically does not contain buildings; however, single-family dwellings, small civic buildings or interpretive centers may be located within this zone.”
A Bangkok, Thailand resort developer seeks to build and operate on Bay Point Island fifty beach bungalows, four spa and wellness centers, several restaurants and areas for listening to music and watching movies.
The developers submitted a special use application for “ecotourism”, but Beaufort County’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied this application on September 24. That denial is being appealed.
An interesting new development is the entry of The Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association into the dispute. The South Carolina Environmental Law Project issued a press release on November 27 announcing the Association has filed a motion to intervene in the appeal.
According to the press release, the Association seeks to intervene because the livelihoods of its members will be impacted by the development. For generations, the Association’s members have relied on the marshes, beaches and waters surrounding Bay Point to harvest fish and shellfish which support their businesses and their families.
Opponents of the development include Governor Henry McMaster. Environmentalists argue that the damage from the resort would extend beyond the island to the nearby marshes which would be threatened with increased chemical, storm water and septic runoff.
Ecotourism permits in Beaufort County have been granted for oyster farms, flower farms and kayak operators. This resort development would be a huge leap from those environmentally friendly uses, according to the development’s opponents.