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Morris Island article in the Post and Courier

From: save the island
Date: 2/16/2004
Time: 10:40:33 AM
Remote Name:


http://www.charleston.net/stories/021604/loc_16morris.shtml Developer, preservationists skirmish over Morris Island DHEC studying permit application for 20 wells, septic tanks BY ROBERT BEHRE Of The Post and Courier Staff A Greenville developer is moving ahead with plans to sell 20 residential lots on Morris Island, the deserted barrier island just south of the entrance to Charleston Harbor. But other people have launched a new effort to stop him. Harry Huffman recently applied for a state permit to allow 20 wells and septic tanks on 62 acres of high land known as Cummings Point, the northern tip of Morris Island and the part most visible from Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began. "We're just studying the feasibility of doing something out there," Huffman said. "It's all a very, very fluid process. ... There's nothing concrete." Some aren't willing to wait until the concrete hardens. A new coalition of several historical and environmental groups has formed to block any attempts to rezone Morris Island and to work to get either a state, federal or nonprofit agency to buy the island and prevent any further attempts at private development there. "It's one of the few remaining barrier islands that's undeveloped," said Blake Hallman of the S.C. Battleground Preservation Trust and one of the coalition's organizers. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control will accept comments on the septic tank application for about two weeks and then could hold a public hearing on the issue, said Stuart Crosby, environmental health director for the Trident Health District "We primarily are interested in environmental impact concerns," Crosby said, adding that the agency has taken a rudimentary look at the island's soils. "My understanding is that there are some soil conditions out there that would support septic systemsin scope. A more detailed analysis of the island will take place." Crosby said it usually takes the agency about six to eight weeks to rule on a request for subdivisions and septic tanks, but he added, "I've got a feeling this one may take a little longer than some. ... The process can last several months." Getting permission for septic tanks is only one obstacle Huffman must clear. Charleston County's zoning allows only two homes to be built there, 10 times fewer than what Huffman is proposing. To build more than two homes, Huffman would need County Council to approve a zoning change, and such a request could be his biggest battle. "We will fight it," said Megan Terebus of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League. "It's an inappropriate density on an island with the sensitivity of Morris Island. The island is very prone to erosion." Another concern is how any development would impact the view from the national historic landmark, Fort Sumter. Huffman said his development could be based in part on a drawing of Morris Island in 1863, which shows several structures on the island, including houses. "I think I can re-establish what might be the only correct view of the time of the Civil War from Fort Sumter," he said, noting that Sullivan's Island, Mount Pleasant and downtown Charleston look very different today than they did in the 19th century. Hallman said that while Huffman's ability to recreate the historical appearance of the island is a valid point, "it's one that I don't agree with. I don't think the concentration of golf carts would work into a historically sensitive view from Fort Sumter." Because there is no bridge to Morris Island, residents would use golf carts to go from community docks to the homes, whose lot sizes would range from 0.6 to 0.7 acres. Huffman said he wasn't sure when he would seek a zoning change, but he noted that his contract to buy the island has a long enough term that he feels no rush. "We've got a lot of work to do, a lot of public input and a lot of exploring to do before we come up with any concrete plan," he said. "Any plan I have now is subject to change six times." Also, Huffman would have to get separate permission from the S.C. Office of Coastal Resource Management for his docks and possibly for any home that he proposes building within 400 feet of the shore, depending on the erosion rate. According to a 1990 survey, Morris Island loses up to 19 feet to the ocean every year, according to OCRM oceanographer Bill Eiser. The owner has contended that Cummings Point actually has accreted in recent years. The island is owned by Yaschik Development Co. of Charleston, which paid about $3 million during a foreclosure proceeding in the mid-1980s. There has been a public attempt to buy the island before. A few years ago, U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings was able to secure $4 million in federal dollars to buy the island, but the timing was slightly off: An option held by the Trust for Public Land already had expired. If Charleston County voters approve a half-cent sales tax later this year, part of that money, from the sum set aside to preserve open space, also could be put toward buying the island. The island has two parts: a southern 713-acre dredge disposal site that is closest to Folly Beach and the Morris Island Lighthouse offshore. The northern end, known as Cummings Point, has about 125 acres, including about 62 acres of high land. Currently under water is the site where Union forces attacked the Confederate-held Battery Wagner on July 18, 1863. Led by Col. Robert Shaw and the all-black 54th Massachusetts infantry regiment, the attack was the inspiration for the climactic battle of the 1989 movie "Glory." Hallman, who got engaged on the island, said the best situation would be to buy the island and conserve it. He called that outcome a win-win situation for everyone but the developer. "But we're not hurting the developer," Hallman said. "He can go develop other places." WHERE TO TURN Anyone wishing to comment on Cummings Point LLC's application to develop 62 acres on Morris Island into 20 lots with private wells and septic tanks may send comments to: Subdivision Supervisor, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, 4045 Bridgeview Dr., Suite 154, North Charleston, S.C. 29405. For more information on the coalition to protect Morris Island, visit the Web site, www.morrisisland.com or send an e-mail to info@morrisisland.org

Last changed: February 16, 2004