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McKenzie Beach: Agency continues investigation of debris on marsh road

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

State environmental officials say they are still investigating the use of construction debris to fill a road through the marsh at Litchfield. Neighbors say they’ve been told by investigators the work violates state coastal regulations.

“We’re still officially in the investigation stage,” said Dan Burger, spokesman for the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

McKenzie Beach LLC received state and county permits to demolish the remains of a hotel and restaurant on Highway 17 that date to the 1950s. The property was once a thriving black beach resort in the days of racial segregation, with buildings on both sides of Clubhouse Creek.

The restaurant was demolished last month. Toddy Smith, one of the owners of the property, said last week the work was done properly. He said owners met with Coastal Resources and “everything’s fine.”

Burger said no one from the agency made such a statement. “Our investigation regarding potential impacts to the critical area is ongoing. I understand that several sections of DHEC have been called to the site, but I cannot confirm their statements,” he said.

The demolition required approval from the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Bureau of Air Quality because it involved asbestos.

Adam Myrick, a DHEC spokesman, said the Air Quality staff had been to the site. “I’m not aware of anything out of compliance” with that permit, he said.

The DHEC permit required that “there will be no regulated asbestos-containing material remaining on the interior or exterior of this facility during demolition.”

Darryl Hammond, whose family has a house on the creek north of the McKenzie Beach property, said they were told the dumping was a violation.

But as he watched this week’s unusually high tides wash over the causeway, Hammond said he is more concerned that the state hasn’t required the owners to erect a silt fence to keep the debris from washing into the marsh.

“There’s every kind of material that you can think of,” he said.

Along with cinder blocks, the debris includes electrical fixtures, a toilet, metal reinforcing rods and old insulation. Decades of trash is also visible where portions of the causeway have eroded, Hammond said.

“With no silt fences, more damage will be done to the marsh and creek, with every rain and high tide,” he said.

Beverly Sawyer also lives on the creek near the McKenzie Beach property.

“We were all concerned because they were filling that thing in with the material from the motel they tore down,” he said. “We were concerned because they didn’t have any sort of screen.”

Smith, who could not be reached this week, said last week the clearing was done because the property had become overgrown. He said there are no immediate plans to develop or sell the property, which includes 5 acres on the southern tip of Litchfield Beach.

Maintaining the road across the marsh is important to provide access to the beach property, Smith said.

A footbridge linked the two parcels until it was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

Sawyer agreed the property looks better since the vegetation was cleared. But he’s concerned any development plan will include a bridge across the creek.

The 29-acre tract was bought by the partnership in 2004 for $380,000. The property is zoned for commercial use on the highway and residential use along the creek and on the beach.

“Just because they haven’t said what they are doesn’t mean they don’t have plans,” Hammond said. “I’m not trying to stop those boys, but do it right.”

McKenzie Beach was created in the 1930s and grew to include a beachfront pavilion, cabins and a restaurant. It drew top-name bands to play at the pavilion.

“The history of that place is one of the best stories at the beach,” Hammond said.

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