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Beaches: DeBordieu gets permit for groins, appeals follow

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A state permit issued this month for construction of three rock and concrete groins as part of a beach nourishment project at DeBordieu is under appeal by two conservation groups and the Baruch Foundation, who say it will impact the undeveloped beachfront at Hobcaw Barony.

“You’re talking about tinkering with a system that’s been able to be untouched and relatively pristine,” said Amy Armstrong, head of the S.C. Environmental Law Project, which represents the local Sierra Club chapter and the Coastal Conservation League.

The DeBordieu Colony Community Association first applied for permits to build the groins in 2008, then amended the application to include a nourishment project that would put 795,000 cubic yards of sand on 1.8 miles of beach at the south end of the private development. The groins, which range from 276 to 313 feet long, will be built perpendicular to the beach to trap sand that moves in the current parallel to the beach.

The community association argues that the groins will help hold the sand in place and cut down on the need for future beach nourishment. Funding for the project still has to be approved by homeowners, said Blanche Brown, general manage of the association.

“DeBordieu Colony has a history of designing and completing environmentally-responsible projects,” she said. “Groins require less sand and less frequent renourishment events.”

The conservation groups and state and federal wildlife agencies opposed the groins at public hearings in 2008 and 2009, saying they will erode the beach at Hobcaw Barony to south of DeBordieu.

The Baruch Foundation owns the property, which is used by scientists as part of the federal National Estuarine Research Reserve System.

“We have the same concerns we’ve always had,” said George Chastain, executive director of the foundation.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control granted the permit, which is good for five years, but attached 14 conditions that define the materials that can be used, how the work should be done and establish criteria for monitoring the impact of the project.

The only other groin project approved in the state under the current regulations was at Hunting Island State Park in Beaufort County. Armstrong said she was surprised the DeBordieu permit was issued. “The regulations were written to be so stringent that they limited the permits,” she said.

Brown said some members of the DeBordieu beach committee were also surprised. “It’s consistent with the beach management act,” she said. “I was optimistic we would get it.”

Under the conditions of the permit, DeBordieu must monitor the impact on the shape of the shoreline within the project area and at Hobcaw. Monitoring is also required for wildlife, such as the sea turtles that nest on those beaches. DeBordieu has to make a financial commitment to future beach nourishment and to alter or remove the groins if they are shown to have adverse impacts.

Armstrong said erosion on downdrift beaches caused by groins is well documented by coastal geologists. “You create the need to build more groins,” she said.

And Armstrong doubts that the state would ever require DeBordieu to remove the groins even if there was an impact. “I don’t have any comfort level with the conditions,” she said. Neither does the Baruch Foundation. “We don’t see that there’s been any changes to the actual design that would alleviate our concerns,” Chastain said.

The appeal goes to the DHEC board for review. A decision there can be appealed to the courts.

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