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Pawleys Island: Town takes cautious look at crumbling jetty

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The collection of rock and other materials that has defined the northern limit of Pawleys Island for over 60 years is one of those rare pieces of coastal real estate where no one claims ownership. It’s now getting a second look from the town of Pawleys Island.

The rock jetty along Midway Inlet was built in the early 1950s by the state highway department, which also built the rock groins along the island’s beachfront. Before it was built, “I can remember as a teenager going out in that inlet in a boat and being less than 100 feet from the houses on the north end of Atlantic Avenue,” Mayor Bill Otis said.

Sand has built up at the north end of the island and in 2004 the town allowed the Assey family, which owned the property at the northernmost tip, to create four oceanfront lots. The zoning change came with a condition: the owners had to acknowledge in their deeds that the town was not responsible for maintaining the jetty or for any damage to the lots caused by erosion.

Lawyers for the Assey family tried to get state agencies to take responsibility for the jetty. There were no takers.

The last time any work was done on the jetty was in 1995, when the town got permission to have concrete construction debris dumped behind the crumbling wood.

The Army Corps of Engineers recommended a study and repair of the jetty. But the structure falls within the federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act that designates areas of high risk where no federal funds can be spent on infrastructure. Otis said he has been working with U.S. 7th District Rep. Tom Rice to have the jetty removed from the CBRA zone.

“If somebody claims it and takes responsibility, the recommendation is sheet piling be driven at the south side of the jetty,” Otis said.

The town hired Coastal Science and Engineering to study the 23 rock and timber groins last year. It came back with a recommendation for repairs to the structures, which are built perpendicular to the beach to trap sand that moves in ocean currents parallel to the shore. The north end jetty wasn’t part of that study and a separate study is estimated to cost about $20,000.

Otis raised the question of taking responsibility for the jetty with Town Council last month. “It’s probably good management for us to take another look at it,” he said. And he believes talking about it won’t raise hopes or expectations that the town is responsible for the jetty. “Legally, we’ve made that very, very clear,” Otis said. “No one has claimed that jetty.”

In the meantime, the town will move forward with repairs to the groins. But it won’t go beyond that, despite a recommendation from Coastal Science and Engineering that some of the groins be modified.

“I think we could get it approved after a year or 18 months,” Otis said, but he also expects any change to the groins would face a challenge from environmental groups that have opposed permits for a new groin at the south end of Pawleys Island and groins at DeBordieu.

He met last month with staff from the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management about a permit. “They specifically said, ‘no adding,’ ” Otis said.

Timbers would be repaired and rocks replaced in their original location. That would cost between $100,000 and $150,000, Otis said, and the work would be done sometime after the end of sea turtle nesting season in the fall.

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