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Pawleys Island: Town ties county groin project to financial stability

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A plan for stabilizing Pawleys Inlet to protect the beach at the adjacent Prince George property is among the items provided to a state court that will determine the fate of Georgetown County’s permit to build a groin on the south end of Pawleys Island. The proposal from a coastal scientist was prepared for the Prince George Community Association, which initially opposed the groin. It’s offered as evidence that the groin will have little impact on adjacent beaches.

The county received a state permit last year to build a 205-foot-long rock groin in front of the public parking lot on the south end. The permit was appealed by conservation groups. The town of Pawleys Island, which supports the project, has asked to intervene in the case because Georgetown County decided not to spend any money to defend the permit in court.

Town Attorney David DuRant said he expects a hearing to be held in the Administrative Law Court next month on the town’s request. The S.C. Environmental Law Project, which represents the appellants, is seeking a summary judgment from the court overturning the permit based on the county’s lack of response. It has objected to the town’s motion to intervene.

“We’re ready to move forward,” DuRant told Town Council this week. “I feel comfortable with our position.”

In order to intervene, the town has to show it stands to suffer a particular injury if the permit is denied. In an affidavit filed last month, Mayor Bill Otis said the town’s finances would be crippled by the loss of vacation rental property on the island’s narrow south end to erosion. The public parking area that will be protected by the proposed groin provides the beach access that makes the town eligible for federal and state beach nourishment funds.

The Corps of Engineers has approved a nourishment project for that area, but no funds have been approved. The houses in that area account for 17 percent of the town’s revenue from accommodation taxes, which is its largest single source of revenue.

“These revenues are dependent on tourism rentals which are dependent on a healthy beachfront, which in the long run is dependent on funding from state and federal sources for protection from and repair of storm damage to the Pawleys Island beach and dune system,” Otis said.

He also told the court that although the town knew the county would not spend money to defend the permit, “at no time was the town of Pawleys Island informed that the court was not actively responding.”

The town also filed an affidavit from Tim Kana, president of Coastal Science and Engineering, a firm that has worked on erosion studies of Pawleys Island and the beach at DeBordieu since the 1970s. The proposed groin “will serve to stabilize the section of ocean beach fronting on the public parking area, and it will lessen the chance of severe erosion of the parking area” if the channel cuts through the tidal spit. The channel breached the spit in 1969 and 1989, he noted.

Kana said the influence of the new groin, which would be the southernmost in a field of 24 groins, will be minimal compared to the effect of storms on the nearby beaches.

His study of Pawleys Inlet for the Prince George property owners was completed in 2009 after the county began seeking permits for the groin. The inlet had shifted south in front of Prince George.

Kana proposed the community work with the town of Pawleys Island and Georgetown County to create an “inlet management zone” with the goal of restricting the movement of Pawleys Inlet to reduce the threat of erosion damage to property. The inlet would be kept within an 1,100-foot-wide corridor by digging a channel across the sand spit whenever the inlet moved outside that range.

As to the groin, the short length coupled with beach nourishment “mean there will be little adverse impact along the majority of the spit and no measurable impact on your property,” Kana told the Prince George property owners.

The appellants say the project doesn’t qualify for a permit because the parking area isn’t threatened by erosion. They also say it will harm habitat for threatened and endangered species.

Kana’s affidavit also includes a study he did earlier this year that “some of the highest nest densities” for sea turtles “occur along beaches with a continuous field of groins.”

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