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Groin opponents and supporters square off at meeting

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

They agree the beach at the south end of Pawleys Island is moving. And they agree the public parking lot provides vital beach access.

But speakers at a hearing this week differed over whether Georgetown County’s plan to build a 205-foot-long rock groin is the way to protect and preserve those resources.

The state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management took comments from two dozen area residents and officials on the county’s request for a permit.

Fran Way, the project engineer, said there are scientists on both sides of the issue of whether groins damage downdrift beaches, but said the evidence from the existing 23 groins on Pawleys Island shows that a new groin will have a minimal impact.

Orrin Pilkey, a retired coastal geology professor at Duke University, said the model used to estimate the impact is flawed. For one thing, it doesn’t account for storms. “Storms change everything,” he said.

Richard Moore, a retired biology professor at Coastal Carolina University and a property owner at Prince George, said there was no proof that erosion was threatening the parking lot. He said the groin will add to problems with rip currents and threaten wildlife habitat.

Phil Schneider, a retired professor of environmental ethics at Coastal Carolina, called the issue “an ethical dilemma.” But he said he believed the facts support the need for a groin.

A sea turtle nested last week on the south end, in sand placed on the spit during a beach nourishment project last year. Schneider, a volunteer turtle monitor, said that shows the groin project and associate beach nourishment won’t impact the threatened sea turtles.

Michael Walker, a mainland resident, said he understood that the science is in conflict. “I suggest we put science aside,” he said.

The county needs to maintain viable access to the beach, especially for people who can't afford to live on the ocean, he said.

“Please don’t forget the science,” said Jerry Odom, a former chemistry professor and director of the University of South Carolina Development Foundation.

He said erosion is threatening the creekfront at Prince George, where the foundation owns a large tract. “We don’t want to do anything to cause it to get worse,” he said.

County Council members Glenn O’Connell and Austin Beard and Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis urged the state to issue the permit to protect the public beach access.

Members of the Sierra Club, League of Women Voters and the Coastal Conservation League spoke against the permit.

Phillip Lammonds, a Prince George resident, said he came to oppose the permit like most of his neighbors. But he said after listening to the scientists and engineers he was wavering.

He said a new groin might stabilize Pawleys Inlet, which has migrated 1,300 feet south in 10 years. The sand delta now forming in the inlet would end up on the Prince George side of the creek and slow erosion that’s cutting into the maritime forest of live oaks.

“Listening here, a lot of people have valid points,” he said.

Coastal Resources will continue to take written comments until July 9 at 927 Shine Ave., Myrtle Beach, SC 29577.

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