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Pawleys Island: Groin opponents fight town’s effort to defend permit

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Plans by the town of Pawleys Island to step into the void left when Georgetown County decided not to defend state permits to build a new rock groin on the island’s south end are being challenged by environmental groups that oppose the project.

The county received a permit last year to construct a 205-foot-long groin in front of the public parking lot on the south end. It says the structure is needed to stabilize the beach and avoid the expense of trucking sand to rebuild the dune after severe storms.

The Coastal Conservation League and the local chapters of the Sierra Club and League of Women Voters oppose the permit, saying the groin will block the flow of sand to nearby beaches and harm habitat for sea turtles and other species. They appealed the decision by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to issue the permit.

Georgetown County, which spent $108,500 to obtain the permit, decided it was too costly to defend it in the state Administrative Law Court. Pawleys Island Town Council voted to intervene in the appeal and approved $45,000 to cover the initial costs after getting assurance from Georgetown County Council that the groin will be built if the permit is upheld.

But the opponents, represented by the S.C. Environmental Law Project, said the town’s intervention comes too late. They’ve already asked the court to issue a summary judgment in their favor based on the county’s lack of response to their “request for admissions.” And besides, attorney Michael Corley argues in a document filed last month, the town “continues a trend in this case, in that it has completely failed to comply with the [court] rules.”

The town’s motion to intervene in the case lacked the required documentation to prove it has standing and meets the other criteria of an intervenor, Corley said.

“I’m comfortable and confident that we are a necessary party,” Town Attorney David DuRant to ldTown Council this week.

But according to Corley, the town doesn’t have any interest in the case that sets it apart from other citizens, one of the tests of whether the town should be allowed to intervene.

Georgetown County owns the parking area, the largest free public beach access with 80 parking spaces. The town wants to make sure the access is protected because it makes that part of the island eligible for federal beach nourishment funds. Mayor Bill Otis says the town is stepping in to do what the county is unwilling to do: defend the groin permit.

Corley argues that the town’s interest in beach access is an interest it shares with the general public, and so isn’t enough to met the standard to allow the town to intervene in the case. “The town is attempting to jump into a case that is over 7 months old, asking to intervene after the petitioners have moved to end this case by summary judgment,” he told the court. “Now that the town fears resolution on summary judgment, it is attempting to join this case midstream.”

DHEC has filed a motion opposing summary judgment. And while in documents opposing the town’s intervention, Corley argues that the agency has the same interest in the outcome as the county and the town, in a separate motion he notes that DHEC failed to respond in time to the environmental groups’ motion for summary judgment.

Georgetown County has not responded to several filings in the appeal nor has it asked the court to be removed, Corley notes.

“Georgetown County does not have the option of ignoring the case without repercussions,” he told the court, and should be considered in default.

As to the state, “DHEC repeatedly bemoans the county’s financial inability to participate in this action, apparently forgetting its conclusion during the permitting process that the county has the financial resources to handle all costs related to this project,” Corley said in a filing.

The state and the county both argue that the environmental groups sent court filings to the county at the wrong address. But Corley points out to the court that the address used was the same one given by the county in its permit application and was also the address DHEC attorneys used to notify the county of filings.

“At no point has counsel for Georgetown County seen fit to correct that address or notify the parties to use a different address – that is, until he realized where the blame might fall for the county’s failure to respond,” Corley wrote.

And he adds, “Exacerbating the county’s inaction is the fact that it never informed this court of its intention not to participate in the hearing of this matter, much less file a formal motion seeking consent from the court to abandon the hearing.”

That’s further reason to grant summary judgment, Corley argues.

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