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Private or Public Property

An interesting case is brewing in Georgetown County right now.  Hobcaw Barony, once owned by Wall Street savant and presidential advisor, Bernard Baruch; is the famed 18,000 acre property on Winyah Bay in Georgetown.  The property and her owners hosted presidents, royalty and world leaders in the early to mid 20th century for hunting and fishing adventures; and sometimes just for respite and relaxation.  The foundation now in control of the property has done a yeoman’s job of preserving the property, history and culture of Hobcaw.

That same foundation has recently filed a lawsuit to assert a King’s Grant over property the foundation claims it owns; namely, North Inlet.  North Inlet is a vast piece of marshy land, sandwiched in between Hobcaw on the west, the ocean on the east, Debordieu on the North, and Muddy Bay and Winyah Bay on the South.  North Inlet has been used for centuries by the public for fishing, shrimping, clamming, oystering, bird watching and simply enjoying a boat ride in some of the most beautiful of God’s lowcountry creation.

Many believe, and state law provides that an uninhibited and continuous use for that long may provide in a prescriptive easement to the public.  The Foundation has said that it only intends on “clearing the title issues” of North Inlet, but the lawsuit clearly reveals an attempt to assert dominion and absolute control over North Inlet.  The Foundation members have even gone on the record recently in the Coastal Observer, claiming no intention of shutting off public access, but once again, that’s not what the lawsuit says.

A partner at this firm, Senator Stephen Goldfinch has been in negotiations with the board for over a month to resolve the issue.  In an effort to resolve the issues and get a legal document memorializing the “intent” to keep North Inlet open, an easement has been proposed.  Unfortunately, last week, the board declared that Belle Baruch’s Last Will and Testament wouldn’t provide for an easement.  Despite differences in legal interpretations of the Will, Senator Goldfinch continues to attempt to resolve this issue for the public.

The Department of Natural Resources, The Coastal Conservation Association and Debordieu have all expressed an intention to intervene and strenuously object to the attempted taking of public land.  There’s still hope for a settlement, but if not, this is sure to be a showdown that interests Georgetownians, conservationists, and legal scholars everywhere.

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