Conservationists and developers have been tussling for years over the future of Captain Sam's Spit, a small, sandy peninsula in the gated coastal community of Kiawah Island, S.C. JLC's Coastal Connection last reported on the spit's situation in June (see: "Spit Take: Amid Controversy, South Carolina Revises Shoreline Development Law," Coastal Connection 6/14/16). At that writing, developers had won permission to develop the spit in a court battle, but had lost a bid to delay the implementation of a freeze in the baseline defining the construction setback from the shore—a line in the sand that limits construction near the water along the whole state's coastline.
Kiawah developers had wanted to delay the freeze in the coastal baseline until 2025, hoping to benefit from accretion of sand on the Atlantic side of the spit's narrow neck. But October's Hurricane Matthew flipped the script, eroding the beach by some 70 to 100 feet. The Charleston Post and Courier weighed in with an editorial on October 19 (see: "Hurricane confirms instability of Capt. Sam's Spit"). "Kiawah Partners has banked on the spit accreting and pushed to set the line later than initially planned," the paper explained. "But according to a report from the town of Kiawah Island, the opposite has occurred: The stretch of beach from Captain Sam’s Inlet to Beachwalker County Park (where the development is planned) lost 70-120 feet from Oct. 5 to Oct. 9. Coastal Conservation League Executive Director Dana Beach declared the project dead. 'Setting it [the baseline] next year will put the setback line in the river and the baseline 100 feet back in the former dunes,' he said. But Bill Hindman, spokesman for Kiawah Partners, said the line should be set based on erosion patterns over the last 40 years, not one catastrophic event."
"Hurricane Matthew wasn’t the monster that had been predicted for the South Carolina coast," the paper commented. "But it should disabuse builders of the would-be merits of constructing 50 high-end houses on this vulnerable spit in the path of a powerful sea and future storms."
Still, there's more than one way to view Matthew's effect on Kiawah. The town's report is posted here (see: "Kiawah Island Post Storm Beach Report," prepared by Jim Jordan, Wildlife Biologist). Town managers seem willing to view the beach's movement as part of a long-term oscillation, not a one-way creep, and they expect sand to build up again on the shore's edge. "Kiawah’s extensive dune system performed its role exactly as it should have," the report reads. "The role of dunes is to sacrifice themselves to protect inland areas. This is exactly what occurred. Beaches are extremely resilient and eroded sand will slowly make its way back up onto our beaches and dunes will begin to rebuild naturally."
Along most of the beach, photos in the report show, the line's movement was minimal compared to the depth of the developed land near the shore. But on Captain Sam's spit, the issue is more debatable: the hundred-foot movement of the dune line diminished the spit's narrow neck by about a fifth.
The area near the gated community's golf course took the biggest hit: "The outer beach dune ridge directly in front of the Ocean Course Driving Range was completely destroyed," the town reported. But again, the report puts an optimistic spin on the news: "This will have a positive long-term benefit since it will allow waves to push additional sand directly onto the beach adjacent to the driving range and clubhouse."