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Pawleys Island: Town takes over county effort to get groin permit

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The town of Pawleys Island will step in to defend a state permit that will allow Georgetown County to build a rock and concrete groin on the south end of the island. But the decision may come too late because the environmental groups that have challenged the permit are seeking a summary judgment in state court because the county failed to respond to filings in the appeal process.

The county began the permit process to build a 205-foot-long groin in front of the island’s south end parking in 2007. It has spent $108,500 on permits, which were approved last year. But the county decided not to defend the permit issued by the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management when it was challenged by the Coastal Conservation League and the local chapters of the Sierra Club and League of Women Voters.

The town began talking about intervening in April. Town Council members said they wanted assurance the county will actually build the groin, estimated to cost $375,000, if the town spends money to defend the permit. The town has already helped fund environmental studies to help the county get the permit.

The town got that commitment this week after Georgetown County Council emerged from an hour-long closed-door session and adopted a resolution to build the groin if the permit is upheld.

The county says the groin is needed to protect the county-owned parking lot at the island’s south end. Mayor Bill Otis reminded County Council members this week that the parking area is the largest free public beach access in the county. It has 80 spaces, but Otis said the town counted 191 vehicles trying to find a space in just two hours on Sunday afternoon. Beach access is important to the town because it is needed to justify federal funds for a long-sought beach nourishment project on the island’s narrow south end.

Time is running out for the town to intervene in the appeal, Otis said.

It was a missed deadline that triggered the summary judgment motion, said Amy Armstrong, head of the S.C. Environmental Law Project, which represents the groin opponents.

On April 2, she served the county with a “request for admissions” that asked for a response to 10 issues associated with the groin such as “the proposed groin would trap sand on Pawleys Island and prevent that sand from moving to the inlet and downdrift beaches.” The county had 30 days to respond.

On May 17, she filed the motion for summary judgment noting that the county had not answered the request for admissions. Under court rules, the statements become established facts in the case if the county doesn’t object.

After the motion was filed, Wesley Bryant, the county attorney, replied to the admissions by denying each statement. In a letter to Armstrong, he pointed out that the original filing was sent to 1918 Church St., not the post office box where he gets his mail.

David DuRant, the town attorney, told council members last week the groin opponents had sent the request to the wrong address then filed the summary judgment motion, which prompted some members to shake their heads in disbelief.

But Armstrong said her request was sent to the same address as all the other documents in the case, which is the county Facility Services office. It’s also the address the county used when it applied for the groin permit. “He never said, ‘Hey, I’m not at that address,’ ” she said. “Only when the motion for summary judgment was filed.”

The letter from Bryant admits he received the requests, and Armstrong said he could have asked for more time to respond.

DuRant planned to file an application to intervene with the Administrative Law Court this week along with an answer to the motion for summary judgment. He told Town Council he thought the motion would be withdrawn because of the address error.

Not so, Armstrong said.

“I’m going to argue aggressively that [the judge] needs to hear our motion on summary judgment before he even considers a motion to intervene,” she said. “They’ve known that this appeal has been going on for quite some time.”

It’s also possible the environmental groups will oppose the town’s effort to intervene, Armstrong said.

Correction: This print version of this article incorrectly said the Coastal Conservation Association is one of the groups appealing the permit. It is the Coastal Conservation League.

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