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Pawleys Island: Judge ready to rule on groins permit appeal

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A state judge is expected to rule soon on an appeal of Georgetown County’s state permit to build a 205-foot-long rock groin on the south end of Pawleys Island. It’s been over a year since Administrative Law Court Judge Phillip Lenski heard the appeal.

“I anticipate a decision very shortly,” said Jana Shealy, clerk of the Administrative Law Court. “He’s had a few rather large cases on his docket.”

Although the permit was issued to Georgetown County in September 2012, the county decided not to defend it in court. The Coastal Conservation League and the local chapters of the Sierra Club and League of Women Voters challenged the decision by the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to approve the project.

Coastal Resources defended its decision in court, but attorneys from the S.C. Environmental Law Project have argued that the county’s failure to respond to court pleadings should lead to the permit being overturned.

“I will make my decision very quickly,” Lenski said at the end of the hearing in November 2013. He gave both sides until the end of last year to file additional written arguments.

If he made a decision, he hasn’t put it in writing.

“We understand the concern of the parties,” Shealy said. “He does have that on the top of his docket.”

Groins are built perpendicular to the shore to trap sand that moves in currents parallel to the beach. There are already 23 groins on Pawleys Island.

The county first applied in 2009 for a permit for a groin in front of the parking lot it owns on the south end of the island. It said the groin is needed to protect the parking lot, which serves the largest free beach access in Georgetown County.

In the past, the county hauled sand to the south end beach following storms to rebuild the dunes. It said the $475,000 groin would be less expensive in the long run.

The project was delayed because the county and its consultants failed to deliver information to the state and regulators on time. Two public hearings were held on the project.

The town of Pawleys Island supports the groin because it would help with a Corps of Engineers project to add sand to the south end beach. That project was approved in 2006, but never funded.

After the county said it was too expensive to defend the groin permit in court, Town Council approved funds for its attorney, David DuRant, to intervene in the permit appeal on its behalf.

Whether the town will be allowed to intervene is also a decision pending from Lenski.

While DuRant and Amy Armstrong, senior counsel for the S.C. Environmental Law Project, have shrugged off the delay in ruling, Town Council members have been increasingly annoyed.

“The thing about courts is they don’t have to tell you when they’re going to rule,” Armstrong said.

She was involved in an appeal of a permit to move an inlet to control erosion at Seabrook Island. It was heard by Lenski in November 2012. An order in that case was issued Monday. It was a consent decree worked out by the parties themselves.

“The passage of time from the commencement of this contested case to entry of this settlement has accomplished the petitioner’s objective,” according to the order signed by Lenski.

Mayor Bill Otis said he was pleased to hear that the judge is close to issuing a ruling, but wasn’t ready to get his hopes up.

Still, he does hope the town will be allowed to intervene. “The town budgeted $40,000, which should be some indication of its commitment,” he said.

Michael Corley, the law project attorney, who argued against the permit, has since taken another job. He argued that under the rules of court procedure, the county was in default for not complying with deadlines to file documents in the case.

He told the judge if he didn’t want to take that approach, the lack of response to “requests for admissions” means the county admitted that the groin doesn’t meet the conditions of state law.

Brad Churdar, attorney for Coastal Resources, objected that the agency didn’t have the opportunity to respond.

“You’re not representing Georgetown County?” Lenski asked him. “Georgetown County has wholesale failed to respond.”

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