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Public safety: Good for dunes, drifting sand slows rescues

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Midway Fire and Rescue was responding to an emergency call on North Litchfield Beach last week, when one of the department’s trucks ran into trouble.

The truck got bogged down in the sand as it tried to use the emergency beach access at Walkway 47, causing a delay.

It’s not the first time that has happened this summer.

“We’re having more issues with getting bogged down this year than any year I remember,” said Midway Chief Doug Eggiman. “I don’t know if it’s because we’ve had so little rain and no real storms, but the sand has built up a lot and it seems softer, which causes problems.”

The buildup is something Georgetown County has been working with Midway to address.

“The sand is accruing and the dunes are increasing in size, where they’re not in other locations. While that’s fortunate for the beach, it makes some challenges for us,” said Beth Goodale, the county’s director of parks and recreation.

Goodale, Eggiman, a county engineer and several other members of county staff met with representatives from the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management on Wednesday to discuss possible solutions.

“We got some good guidance and we’re looking at hopefully making some modifications,” Goodale said. “There are some things we might be able to do, and they will find out for us what other places have used them and give us additional guidance.”

The sand buildup has caused problems for more than just Midway. Homes on the ocean side in North Litchfield contract for trash pick-up and collectors using the access have also gotten stuck, according to Goodale.

Tom Foy, a resident of North Litchfield, saw the Midway truck get bogged down on July 4. He said he has been trying to get the county to fix problems at that walkway for years.

“I frankly have tried everything I know humanly possible to get it fixed,” he said.

He contacted County Council Member Jerry Oakley, Goodale, the county administrator and S.C. Sen. Ray Cleary.

“I’ve struck out,” Foy said. “I hate to admit defeat, but I haven’t been successful and if something isn’t done, somebody’s going to lose their life because of this situation. When you can’t get emergency vehicles down there, that’s a real problem.”

More planks need to be added at the bottom of the walkways he said. The way it’s currently designed, there’s either too much sand, as is being seen now, or too little, which also causes problems.

His initial concern was making the walkway easier for the public to use, particularly those in wheelchairs. Last year, he said, he and his son had to carry a woman in a wheelchair off the walkway when she got stuck there.

“The only way to get a wheelchair through there is if you have people to pick it up and carry it,” said Foy’s wife, Nona. Her sister is in a wheel chair and got stuck on the walkway during a recent visit.

That walkway was never intended to be a handicap access, Goodale said.

“We don’t have enough right-of-way to turn it into a handicap access and there’s no parking,” she said. “That’s why we made such an investment in Walkway 10.”

Recently renumbered to be Walkway 54, that access is designed to accommodate wheelchairs.

“But who wants to go way down the beach to use that walkway if you live up here?” Foy asked.

While the county looks at ways to solve the problems sand is causing for Midway and other vehicles permitted to use Walkway 47, Goodale said employees are trying to keep the access swept as a temporary solution.

She doesn’t know when more permanent action might be taken, but by that time it could be it’s not needed.

“All it takes is one storm or one high tide to change things,” she said. “Mother Nature could take care of this issue or change it to a different one. That’s why this is such a difficult issue, because it can change so quickly.”

At Garden City, the county is seeing a problem opposite to the one in North Litchfield. Too much sand is being swept out to sea there, Goodale said.

This week, the county closed Walkway 43 at Garden City for structural repairs.

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