Goldfinch urging state to oppose Baruch claim to marsh
The public will be barred from using North Inlet under a suit filed last year by the Belle W. Baruch Foundation to establish ownership of marsh land adjoining Hobcaw Barony, according to state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch. He is urging the state attorney general’s office to oppose the claim.
“The lawsuit said Hobcaw and its foundation shall exclude everybody from using the inlet,” Goldfinch said. “We’re talking about deepwater creeks.”
Property owners at DeBordieu, on the northern boundary of Hobcaw Barony, are also concerned.
“Most definitely,” said Blanche Brown, general manager of the DeBordieu Colony Community Association. “DeBordieu people have been using North Inlet for fishing and shelling for 50 years and have spent millions of dollars maintaining the canal and creek for access.”
The Baruch Foundation filed suit in November in Circuit Court seeking a declaration that it owns the 8,000 acres of marsh that surround 8,000 acres of high ground at Hobcaw. It traces the ownership to colonial era grants from the kings of England. “They together establish, in each grant and its accompanying plan, the grantor’s clear intent to convey the land and marsh contiguous to the land between the mean high water mark and mean low water mark,” the suit states.
The suit notes that the state of South Carolina also has a claim to the marsh, which is considered public trust property.
“Our position is still the same,” said George Chastain, executive director of the Baruch Foundation. “There are no changes to North Inlet.”
Goldfinch said the Baruch Foundation asked the state Department of Natural Resources to create a shellfish management plan for North Inlet that would allow recreational use but prohibit commercial use of the inter-tidal area. He asked the foundation to confirm the public’s right to access the marsh through an easement.
“That was the deal I was working on,” Goldfinch said.
Instead, he said, he received an email from the trustees saying the foundation was unable to grant an easement under the terms of Belle Baruch’s will.
“That’s where the wheels fell off,” Goldfinch said. “They just want the public to be comfortable with their word and a handshake.”
Chastain said he didn’t want to get into a debate with Goldfinch, but referred to a letter to the editor from the Baruch Foundation chairman, Ben Zeigler, in December.
“This court filing will not change the foundation’s position on recreational access to North Inlet, especially for fishing. People will continue to be able to enjoy lawful use of North Inlet and its resources as they have for generations,” Zeigler wrote.
He said it will allow the foundation to create “an effective shellfish management program on Hobcaw Barony that can make possible sustainable recreational shellfish gathering for generations to come.”
“What they say and what the suit says aren’t compatible,” Goldfinch said. “Why even do it if you don’t want anything to change.”
Chastain and Zeigler have said the foundation wants to establish their claim in the state courts, something that was recommended by they attorney general’s office.
The title claims were confirmed by federal courts in the 1800s, before the property was bought by Bernard Baruch, Chastain said.
Goldfinch said he doesn’t doubt the intentions of the Baruch trustees, but he wants to make sure the public use of North Inlet is protected.
He has also talked with the attorney general’s office and encouraged it to “strenuously object.” He has also talked with the Coastal Conservation Association, a nonprofit anglers group, about the case.
“Hobcaw is about to have a fight on its hands,” Goldfinch said. “I’m hoping they’ll come to their senses.”