Commentary: Paradise lost — How some Islanders couldn’t see the beauty for the forest | Commentary

By Steve Bailey

Think your vote doesn’t matter? Consider the story of the Sullivan’s Island maritime forest.

Greg Hammond, who works for Charleston billionaire investor Ben Navarro and lives in a $3 million oceanfront house, last year was elected to Sullivan’s Island Town Council by a single vote. That one-vote margin, in turn, allowed Hammond this month to cast the deciding vote that will forever change the island’s magical maritime forest. This cannot be allowed to stand.

At a moment when oceans are rising and beaches are eroding (see Isle of Palms and Folly Beach — and the other end of Sullivan’s for that matter), the maritime forest is a gift, a gift of nature and the jetties. But rather than being grateful for all they have been given, some of the most blessed people on the planet have spent years hysterical about this miracle of nature.

The forest, the beachfront millionaires charge in a decade-old lawsuit, is a scary place infested with coyotes and snakes and vermin, oh my! The forest could go up in flames! There are mosquitos! It could harbor criminals! You can’t make up this stuff — it takes an exceptionally talented lawyer to do that.

The real issue, and they are explicit about it in their lawsuit, is that the forest blocks their ocean views and hurts their property values. “The plaintiffs’ properties have been reduced in fair market value by one million ($1,000,000) dollars,’’ they said in the 2010 lawsuit.

What they don’t say is that no one benefited more than the front beach homeowners when the town, showing uncommon vision, helped create a trust in 1991 that would forever protect the land that was accreting, thanks to the jetties just offshore. This meant beachfront owners would never have to worry about a new row of houses blocking their views. To see what could have been, look no farther than Isle of Palms, where developer J.C. Long infamously bulldozed the dunes around Christmas 1974 to cash in on a hideous new front row.

The expanding Sullivan’s Island beachfront, however, belongs not to the homeowners but to the public. The land trust was created for the many not the few. Only 10% of the island’s 900 homes abut the protected zone, many of them second homes. The Constitution guarantees no one the right to unobstructed oceanviews from the master suite of their beach house.

Bob Trussler has spent 39 years on the island, most of it on the second row at Station 16. It’s not the forest blocking residents’ views, he says, but the ever-larger trophy homes being built on the oceanfront. The forest has protected his neighborhood from storms; cutting it back is “insane.”

“Let nature do its thing, and eventually you get something beautiful,” says Trussler, a retired architect.

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And that it is — as beautiful a garden, wild and authentic, as