Town leaders, advocates say cutting of Sullivan’s Island Maritime Forest likely illegal

SULLIVAN’S ISLAND, S.C. (WCBD) – Sullivan’s Island leaders say they’re hiring an attorney to look at ways to overturn a plan that could lead to large portions of the island’s maritime forest being cut down. The vote to hire Attorney William Wilkin came just days after a portion of the forest was potentially illegally cut near Station 26 on the island.

Drone footage provided by SI4ALL shows a section roughly the width of a house was cleared. The clearing is raising concerns for residents while town officials say they are investigating to determine if the cutting was illegal.

“We were heartbroken and devastated to see the extent of the cutting,” says Karen Byko, President of SI4ALL.

The clearing has town leaders and residents including Byko scrambling to stop the chop of the island’s accreted forest the say provides protection from storms and flooding while offering a home for native wildlife.

“Concern is that we are devastating the very thing that is protecting us and it provides a home to our wildlife partners,” says Byko.

A majority of the cutting happened behind a house near Station 26 on Atlantic Avenue. Zillow records show the house was listed for sale on February 10th, around the time the cutting was believed to have happened, for $2.9 million. The house was then taken off the market five days later on February 15th after concerns over the cutting were raised at a town council meeting.

News 2 went to the home in front of the cutting to ask the owners if they knew anything about the cutting, a housekeeper was the only person home at the time and declined to answer questions.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says they haven’t received any tree cutting permits from either the Town of Sullivan’s Island or private residents. The agency says they recommended more discussion at the local level late last year before permitting any clearing of vegetation.

Town councilmembers Gary Visser and Scott Millimet called the cutting illegal and disheartening to see.

“The disregard for our community that they are a part of,” says Visser. Millimet called the act “extremely selfish.”

Sullivan’s Island Mayor Pat O’neil says the town is conducting a serious and thorough investigation into the cutting to identify those responsible and hold them accountable. Town officials are hopeful stricter penalties for cutting trees will be adopted by Town Council moving forward.

“If somebody says you’re going to have to wear an orange jumpsuit for 30 days, that might be a bigger deterrent,” says Millimet.

“We hope that they will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law,” says Byko.

The Army Corps of Engineers says they have not been contacted to investigate the cutting. Town officials say they will continue to investigate the incident.