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DeBordieu: Groin opponents prepared for long fight

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Opponents of construction of three rock and concrete groins as part of a beach nourishment project at DeBordieu are preparing for a long legal battle over the state permit for the work.

The board of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control last week confirmed the permit following a review hearing.

Once the board issues a written decision, opponents have 30 days to appeal that decision to the state’s Administrative Law Court.

“We knew it was going to be a multi-year fight,” said Amy Armstrong, head of the S.C. Environmental Law Project. “We’re prepared to be in this fight for the long haul.”

She represents the Coastal Conservation League and the Sierra Club, which oppose the groins.

The Belle W. Baruch Foundation board is due to decide within the week whether to continue its opposition in the courts, said George Chastain, the foundation’s executive director.

Groins are built perpendicular to the beach to trap sand that moves in the current running parallel to the shore. At issue in this case is the possible impact on the undeveloped beach at Hobcaw Barony, which is owned by the Baruch Foundation and used for scientific research.

State law allows construction of groins as part of a beach nourishment project to protect property in areas with high erosion rates provided there is no impact on the adjacent beach.

The state permit comes with conditions that specify how the groins will be built and how their impact will be monitored. The DeBordieu Colony Community Association must also guarantee funds for future beach nourishment and to alter or remove the groins if they impact the nearby beaches.

The groins will help trap the 795,000 cubic yards of sand the association wants to place on 1.8 miles of beach and cut down to the need for future nourishment, said Blanche Brown, the association’s general manager.

“Instead of four projects over 18 years, we would have two,” she said.

Armstrong said her clients don’t object to the beach nourishment, just to the groins.

She didn’t expect the DHEC board to overrule the staff decision to issue the permit, but she said she was surprised to learn at the review hearing that the staff didn’t give much weight to analyses of downdrift impacts.

“You have to prove there aren’t going to be any,” she said.

Instead, she said the agency looked at sand volumes.

A legal challenge to the permit will set the standard by which the state approves groins, Armstrong said.

The groins and beach nourishment will be funded by DeBordieu property owners. Brown said she didn’t want to discuss cost estimates because it could impact negotiations with contractors.

“We’re continuing to move forward with homeowners’ meetings and presenting information,” she said. “It is an area that has a high rate of erosion and we’ve got to take every step we can take.”

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