SULLIVAN’S ISLAND, S.C. (WCBD) – The Town of Sullivan’s Island is seeking another legal opinion on the town’s Maritime Forest settlement that would allow more cutting operations of the forest. The settlement was part of a more than a decade-long legal battle.
Town leaders are looking for a second opinion of the settlement approved by the last town council. The group is challenging the legality and obligations required of the town. Some are optimistic it means the forest can be saved while others say it’s time to move forward.
The debate between a special town council meeting Tuesday morning became heated at times.
“Exercising every effort we can to be transparent,” says Town Councilman Scott Millimet.
“It’s just, it’s ludicrous,” says Kay Smith, Sullivan’s Island Town Councilwoman. “I think it’s a shameful way to use our town’s resources.”
The decision to hire legal counsel came down to a controversial vote before hiring Greenville-based William Wilkins and Nexsen Pruet Law Firm to conduct a second opinion of the settlement.
“It’s a good next step in the process of trying to undo the mediation settlement,” says Karen Byko, a Sullivan’s Island resident and President of Sullivan’s Island For All.
“This settlement was really crafted behind closed doors,” says Susan Middaugh, a Sullivan’s Island resident who raised concerns over the way the settlement was approved following the special council meeting.
The law firm will examine the legality, and the town’s required obligations laid out in the settlement. Those opposed to the settlement say it prevents future management of the town’s natural forest.
“The problem with the settlement and why we really need an external review is that it has language in it that binds future town councils,” says Middaugh.
The settlement was reached in October of 2020 after a decade-long legal battle between the Town of Sullivan’s Island V. Bluestein.
Despite the approved settlement, some residents are still fighting for the future of the forest while other residents felt the settlement was the best outcome to be reached.
“A couple of judges, several courts, our own town attorneys and that’s still not good enough,” says Kimberly Brown, a Sullivan’s Island resident who believes the mediation was the best outcome. “I think it seems more like awaiting to find somebody who’ll say what they want to say.”
Some residents remain determined to stop the chop of the Maritime Forest while others say it’s time to put the settlement in the past.
“There comes a time when you say enough you know like we’ve met in the middle, we’ve mediated let’s abide by that,” says Brown. “Let’s honor that, let’s honor what we did.”
Wilkins and the Nexsen Pruet Law Firm are expected to take a closer look at the settlement in the coming weeks ahead of the judicial review deadline. Officials say cutting could start as early as December if approved by the Department of Health and Environmental Control.