Sullivan’s Island investigating illegal cutting of maritime forest

SULLIVAN’S ISLAND, S.C. (WCBD) – The Town of Sullivan’s Island is searching for those responsible for cutting down part of the island’s maritime forest. Town leaders are hoping to establish stricter penalties to prevent future cutting while residents are hoping the trees can be replaced.

An employee with the town noticed the cutting around February 9th and reported it to town leaders leading to the town opening an investigation. Town leaders say preventing future cutting might be achieved through jail time or stricter fines.

“This is the epitome of selfishness,” says Town Councilman Scott Millimet reacting to the cutting.

Island residents were also upset with the cutting. “It’s clear these trees weren’t cut by accident, I mean they were purposefully cut to someone’s benefit,” says one resident.

A number of trees along Station 26, the width of a house were chopped and dropped in the town’s maritime forest. The island’s forest has become the center of a debate to save the town’s accredited land over the last several years.

“It damages everybody, it doesn’t just (damage) the two neighbors,” the resident said.

Dozens of trees have been marked and documented by town employees after being cut down. Councilman Millimet says residents couldn’t believe it when learning of the illegal cutting.

“General shock, frustration – bitterness,” says Councilman Millimet when referring to what he’s heard from residents.

Each tree cut down comes with a $1,040 fine but residents and leaders say that might not be enough to prevent future cutting.

“This just proves that there are those out there that until the punishment is enhanced, it’s going to continue,” says Councilman Millimet.

Councilman Millimet believes the fines should be raised and jail time considered for those responsible. “We can try to do some replanting,” says Councilman Millimet. “And then I think we also need to focus on enhancing the punishment.”

Advocates fighting for the future of the maritime forest agree with the measure. “While there are penalties, they are not severe enough to disincentive someone from potentially doing this again,” says Karen Byko, President of Sullivan’s Island 4 All.

With the damage already done along Station 26, leaders and residents hope they can stop additional chopping in the future.

“At the very least, I hope they replant these trees,” says the resident.

“There’s quite a bit of work to do but like I said we’ve got to get the ball rolling because the longer we wait, certain residents have shown that they will act in their own best interest and we’ve got to figure out how to prevent that,” says Councilman Millimet.

Town officials declined to provide a comment on the latest in the investigation.