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Rough Sailing: Opposition to Pinckney Point Boat Docks, Ramp Growing

July 18, 2008

By Liz Mitchell, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Jul. 18–A state decision allowing a Florida developer to build docks, boat lifts and a community boat ramp on a peninsula between the Okatie and Colleton rivers faces growing opposition from residents, local elected officials and environmentalists.

Three appeals already have been filed with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control since last week’s approval of the project, and at least three more are expected. The project, called Pinckney Point, would have three community docks, 30 boat lifts and a boat ramp with a boarding dock under the approval granted by DHEC.

Walter Nester, an attorney for Pinckney Point, said he was aware of local resistance and plans a response.

The developer initially wanted more than twice as many docks and boat lifts, but state officials demanded that the project be scaled back to comply with clean water regulations.

Opponents still believe the project is too large.

“It’s too much and at the very least premature,” said Weston Newton, chairman of Beaufort County Council, which plans an appeal. “We feel this is inappropriate, and I will be issuing the request for a final hearing (on the appeal) within the time frame provided by DHEC.”

The deadline set by DHEC for appealing is Thursday.

Bluffton Town Council also voted Tuesday to appeal the state’s decision, a move that brought applause from residents who attended the council’s meeting. They asked Bluffton officials to protect those parts of the river that lie within town limits even though the proposed development sits on county land.

“The Okatie and Colleton is a pristine estuary,” said Mary O. Merrick, a 92-year-old resident of Pinckney Colony, a neighborhood near the proposed development. Her uncle operated an oyster factory 100 years ago on the site where one of the docks would be built.

“Anything that is introduced, such as a great number of boats and all of the emissions connected with boats, could be a factor in closing oyster beds (and) reducing the number of crabs, shrimp, fish,” she said. “There are very few rivers like this left in South Carolina and I think they should be preserved.”

Merrick is a member of the Pinckney Colony Neighborhood Association, which has appealed and is represented by Bluffton attorney Roberts Vaux.

The Coastal Conservation League submitted a letter in support of the neighborhood association’s appeal. The league’s letter says the DHEC approval violates state regulations, which only permit one dock per lot.

The property has not been subdivided and there is no pending application with Beaufort County seeking that action.

The league also questions the validity of the permit granted by DHEC because it was based on an application that differs from the one originally submitted. The approved plan included maps, added in April, showing additional docks.

Those differences, the league says, weren’t part of the public hearings last year.

Dan Burger, a spokesman for the state agency, said that while the proposal has been tweaked since the original application, the state won’t allow the extra docks on the maps to be built.

Another appeal has been filed by Vaux on behalf of John David Pinckney, who owns land that abuts the proposed development.

DHEC would not say who filed the third appeal.

Another group — Friends of the Rivers — also plans an appeal. In addition, it has proposed a county ordinance to toughen dock permitting regulations for rivers classified as “Outstanding Resource Waterways.”

The designation means the rivers hold “exceptional recreational or ecological importance.”

Both the Okatie and the Colleton rivers are classified as such waterways.

“It’s an excellent idea,” county administrator Gary Kubic said of the proposed ordinance. “The issue of the docks on the headwaters of the Okatie and its effects will give us the opportunity to strengthen our concerns about the environment.”

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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