DEFUND Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island, and Folly Beach over beach access restrictions

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           The three beach islands which are part of the Charleston Metropolitan Area, Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms have taken significant steps this year aimed at isolating themselves from the rest of the community.  Despite the fact that they all receive large contributions of money from Charleston County and the State, they have adopted policies which have the effect, and are intended to, make them like gated communities open only to their residents and the guests of residents.

            The excuse given by the city/town mayors and councils of these islands is the COVID 19 virus.  When the pandemic began, each of these islands – acting without consultation or consent of the State – closed the state owned and maintained roads that connect them to the rest of Charleston County.  This extreme action has only been done at times of the risk of or actual physical danger from hurricanes.  These islands posted armed police on the bridges connecting them to the mainland who forcibly prevented the rest of the citizens of Charleston County from accessing these islands.  Only when they were threatened with suit by the County after many weeks of this unlawful conduct, did they stop interfering with traffic on these bridges. 

            Now, these same island mayors and councils are imposing restrictive parking and beach use rules for the same purpose.  The Isle of Palms has forbidden parking on all of Palm Boulevard, a State highway (703), except for residents, who may park there if they display a residential sticker.  This is a specific and unlawful act to favor island residents and exclude the public.

            In South Carolina, the beach is part of the public trust held by the State for the benefit of all citizens.  All land below the mean high water mark is part of the public trust, as was held by the SC Supreme Court in Cape Romain Land and Improvement Co. in 1928 and State v. Hardee in 1972.  The SC Attorney General has long ruled that these public trust areas are for public use for fishing, bathing, recreation and navigation.  Op. Att. Gen. 329.334 (1970).  What these beach communities are doing is to bar non-residents from using public property limiting its use to the few thousand of their own residents.  Prohibiting non-residents from parking close to beach access points has been struck down as unconstitutional by many courts, including the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Fillyaw I in 1992 and Fillyaw II in 1994 and a number of state courts including the Connecticut Supreme Court in Leydon in 2001.  Discrimination against non-residents violates their equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment and their rights under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the US Constitution.  It also has been held to violate the right to peaceably assemble and to exercise free speech under the 1st Amendment. 

            Moreover, Palm Boulevard is a state highway.  It is maintained by all of the people of the state.  It is invidious and outrageous discrimination to deny the people who pay for it but who do not live on the island the ability to park along its right of way but to allow residents to park there.  The most effective way to protect public access to our beaches is for the Governor and the Department of Transportation to forbid the discriminatory and arbitrary closure to non-residents seeking to access public trust beaches.  Failing that, the County Council could sue to enforce the public’s rights as it did earlier this year.  In addition, the County’s taxpayers should not be bilked to pay for niceties on these islands when they are expressly excluded by the mayors and councils of these communities.  Right now, the Isle of Palms has its hands out seeking $100,000 of county money for a walkway to the beach.  This is the very height of hubris and gall.  The most effective way, in addition to a lawsuit, is for the county to cut off the gravy train of county money to these communities until they stop trying to deny access to non-residents.

            WE HEREBY PETITION Charleston County Council to cease payment of any and all funds to Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms for any purpose unless and until these mayors and councils enter into an agreement to cease taking actions to restrict public access to these islands and to the beaches.  Parking restrictions, excessive fines, and limits on the ability to make use of the beaches must be included in such an agreement.  If the residents of these islands want to selfishly take what belongs to all of us, they should not be rewarded with any of our tax money.