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DeBordieu: Groin opponents won't get hearing

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Federal and state environmental agencies have renewed their opposition to a request to build three concrete and rock groins on the beach at DeBordieu. Environmental groups also oppose the plan, but there isn’t enough opposition to trigger a public hearing.

The state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management received 18 letters commenting on the request by the DeBordieu Colony Community Association for permits to place 795,000 cubic yards of sand on 1.8 miles of beach and build three groins to help hold it in place.

“Only 12 of the letters requested a public hearing and at this time we are not planning to hold one,” said Dan Burger, spokesman for the agency. “The threshold for a public hearing is 20 letters or a request from a local elected official.”

A permit application in 2008 to build the groins met with similar objections, and a hearing was held to get additional comment. The DeBordieu association later withdrew that request and filed a new one that included the beach nourishment project.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Natural Resources say they have no objections to the beach nourishment, but say the groins will disrupt the flow of sand along the beach and could damage habitat used by shorebirds and nesting sea turtles.

Groins are built perpendicular to the shore to catch sand that moves in the ocean currents parallel to the beach. The state allows new groins only in areas with high erosion rates where existing structures are at risk. It requires monitoring of adjacent beaches for adverse impacts and holds applicants responsible for mitigating those impacts.

The local Sierra Club chapter and the S.C. Coastal Conservation League oppose the groin construction.

“Any further beach groins are simply a bad idea,” said Hobie Kraner, who co-chairs the Sierra Club chapter, in a letter to Coastal Resources.

The conservation league notes that the groins will impact the undeveloped beach at Hobcaw Barony, part of the North Inlet National Estuarine Research Reserve.

“The proposed activity would serve homeowners in a private community and would not protect a publicly accessible area,” Nancy Cave, director of the league’s North Coast office, told the agency.

The Belle W. Baruch Foundation, which owns Hobcaw, also opposes the groin construction.

Comments from DeBordieu property owners were split.

James and Marcy Braselton told state regulators “that without remedial action, homes will be destroyed on the south end of the Debidue Beach in the near future.”

Lanning Risher said the groins will stabilize the beach and benefit wildlife habitat. “People, as well as wildlife, will benefit from this project,” he wrote.

But Mike Heazel said, “the net gain is minimal, and the cost to the environment far outweighs the benefits.”

The groin permit isn’t supported by the majority of property owners, he added.

“It comes from a small group who sits on the community association board and pursues this over vehement opposition from the community,” Heazel said.

And Wilma and Arthur Bjontegard said experience shows hard structures offer only temporary solutions to the effects of natural forces.

“They are unattractive and often prohibitively expensive both to construct and maintain,” they told the agency.

The Bjontegards also oppose Georgetown County’s plan to build a groin at the south end of Pawleys Island.

That permit was the subject of a hearing earlier this year. It is still under review.

The DeBordieu permit is under review by technical staff at Coastal Resources, Burger said.

The nourishment sand for the DeBordieu project will be taken from two sites 2 to 3 miles offshore that were used in a 2006 project. If that is approved, the Department of Natural Resources says the borrow sites need to be monitored.

“Unmanaged use of these areas as sand sources may result in the long-term demise of these systems as both habitat and as sand resources for future nourishment projects,” said Susan Davis, the agency’s coastal environmental coordinator.

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