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Pawleys Island: Agencies solicit new groin plan comments

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Federal and state regulators are soliciting new public comments on Georgetown County’s application for permits to build a groin on the south end of Pawleys Island.

It’s the second round of comments for the project, which began in April 2009. None of the details have changed, but the permit process has been dormant for a year and the Corps of Engineers and the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management say that gap prompted the new comment period.

Only comments received in the new round will be considered, according to the agencies.

The county wants to build a 205-foot-long groin in front of the public parking lot, which it owns. There are 23 existing groins south of Pawleys Pier. The county says the new groin is needed to reduce erosion damage to the parking area. It’s the largest free public beach access in the county.

Groins are built perpendicular to the shore to trap sand that moves in the ocean parallel to the beach. State law allows construction of groins to protect public facilities only if there is no impact on the downdrift beach.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Natural Resources opposed the project in 2009, saying it would harm habitat for endangered and threatened species on the island’s southern tip. Property owners at Prince George, which is across Pawleys Inlet from the south end, also oppose the project because they believe it will increase erosion on their beachfront.

Georgetown County’s plan calls for adding sand north of the new groin to create a 30-foot-wide dry sand beach at high tide. The county would also be required to perform ongoing beach nourishment or remove the groin if it impacts the adjacent beaches.

The town of Pawleys Island supports the groin because the public access it provides makes the town eligible for federal and state funds for beach nourishment. The Corps of Engineers approved a nourishment project along 1.4 miles of south end beach in 2006, but it has not received funding from Congress.

The town agreed to give the county $9,000 to fund additional permitting work by its consultant. Mayor Bill Otis said he was pleased that the county reactivated the project. He was disappointed that the comment period was reopened, but not surprised.

“I was hoping,” he said.

Otis expects the new round of comments will lead to a second public hearing.

A hearing on the project was held in July 2009. The Corps of Engineers said the county withdrew its application in January 2010, though neither the county’s consultant nor its capital planner said they were aware of the withdrawal.

In July, the state office of Coastal Resources gave the county 180 days to provide additional information about the project, including a biological assessment of its potential impact. That information was sent to the Corps late last month, and the county planned to ask for an extension of time to provide additional information.

“We had sort of hoped that it had gone away,” said Richard Moore, a Prince George resident who spoke against the project in 2009.

Moore, a retired biology professor, would like to see the additional information from the county.

“The earlier report didn’t have any biological aspects,” he said.

Prince George residents are still concerned about the impact of a new groin on erosion.

“Everything we said before is still true,” Moore said. “We’ve got copies of what we sent in the last time. We can drag them out again.”

Comments can be sent to the Corps by Jan. 20 at 1949 Industrial Park Rd., Room 140, Conway, SC 29526. Coastal Resources will take comments until Feb. 4 at 1362 McMillan Ave., Suite 400, Charleston, SC 29405.

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