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McKenzie beach: State finds 4,800 sq. ft. of marsh filled by debris

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Owners of property on the creek at Litchfield used construction debris and gravel to widen a causeway through the salt marsh, according to state regulators.

Enforcement staff at the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management last week met with representatives of McKenzie Beach LLC to discuss that work that the agency said filled 4,800 square feet of wetlands without a permit.

Dan Burger, the agency spokesman, said he couldn’t comment on the case until it is resolved. The agent for McKenzie Beach said he no longer wants to comment on the situation.

The property was once the site of a popular black beach resort, and a portion of a crumbling motel and restaurant remain near Highway 17. The owners got permission from the state and county to tear down the buildings in June.

The causeway runs from high ground into the marsh along Clubhouse Creek. It was once linked to 5 acres on the southern end of Litchfield Beach by a footbridge that was destroyed by a hurricane in the 1950s.

Coastal Resources staff marked the wetlands along the causeway in March at the request of McKenzie Beach LLC. The causeway is grandfathered under state regulations because it was built before the state passed the Coastal Zone Management Act in 1977.

But the 15-foot-wide road can’t be expanded without a permit, Ryan Reed, a Coastal Resources enforcement officer, wrote in his “notice of violation.”

The notice was sent to the owners July 23 and made public July 30.

An agency project manager was called to the property June 29 after someone said they saw a backhoe in the marsh. The manager, Sean Briggs, said one of the wheels of the backhoe was impacting the marsh. He told the operators to keep the machine and any material out of the marsh.

On July 2, someone called Coastal Resources to say material had been placed in the marsh.

Reed and Misty Foster, a solid waste manager for the Department of Health and Environmental Control, went to the site six days later.

Reed said the causeway was now 18 to 25 feet wide because of fill placed in the marsh. It stretched for 438 feet, he said.

Foster found that some of the construction debris in the marsh had lead-based paint.

Regulators got another call six days after that from someone who said high tides and heavy rains had washed debris from the causeway into the marsh. Briggs found concrete slabs on both sides of the causeway and other material “characteristic of demolition debris.”

At the end of the causeway, he said he found pea gravel and red dirt in the marsh.

Reed said he spoke by phone with a representative of McKenzie Beach LLC the next day and he “acknowledged fill material had been placed along and at the terminus of the causeway, but thought it was placed on what they considered the upland.”

The representative, who like the callers to the agency was not named in Reed’s report, said McKenzie Beach LLC would comply with state regulations. Workers began removing the debris last week.

The penalty for the violations is $100 to $1,000 a day, according to Reed’s report.

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