SULLIVAN’S ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) – Residents of Sullivan’s Island continue to remain divided days after a legal expert published an opinion stating the town’s settlement agreement cannot be enforced.
William Wilkins, an attorney hired by Sullivan’s Island, published a 120-page opinion that states the town’s settlement agreement from last year regarding cutting the Maritime Forest is “invalid and unenforceable” under South Carolina law.
“The way that the mediation settlement is structured, cutting can begin immediately, and once cutting begins out in the Maritime Forest, we can’t undo it,” Sullivan’s Island for All President Karen Byko said.
The settlement agreement was first agreed upon in October 2020.
“That agreement basically allows the town to cut huge swaths of vegetation out of the Maritime Forest at the request of a few residents who want to cut down the forest in order to gain ocean views and breezes from their homes,”Byko said.
Laurie Volkmann lives across the street from the Maritime Forest and uses it to go on walks with her dog. She said the forest’s fate has polarized the town.
“The issue has been overblown a little bit to be ‘The people on the beach just want to have an oceanside view,’ and knowing the neighbors I’ve talked to, that’s not their primary concern,” Volkmann said.
Byko, meanwhile, said she wants the town to move forward immediately with a judicial review and undo the agreement to keep the forest intact.
Sullivan’s Island Mayor Pat O’Neill declined to have an on-camera interview on Thursday.
However, he released the following statement to Live 5:
“As Mayor, I read the opinion with considerable interest, and Mr. Wilkins’ analysis and conclusions seemed to be very clear and unequivocal. Town council has proceeded very methodically, and we will continue to do so.”
As for Volkmann, she said she believes in maintaining the forest to ward off pests and invasive species, but not cutting it all down.
“I would hope that as a community we could all read this and say, ‘We’re OK with some maintenance. We understand that we’re not just going to chop down all the trees, so that we have no Maritime Forest,’” Volkmann said.
The town’s administrator said over the phone that the town council will discuss the opinion over the coming days.
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