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Beaches: After two years, another promise of court action on permit appeal goes unfulfilled

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Hope that a state Administrative Law Court judge will issue a ruling in a dispute over a state permit to build a groin on the south end of Pawleys Island rises and falls like the tide.

It rose when Judge Phillip Lenski said at the close of a hearing in November 2013 “I will make my decision very quickly.” It fell over the next year, but rose in December 2014 when the clerk of court said “I anticipate a decision very shortly.”

Hope ebbed again until Pawleys Island Town Council asked the town attorney to request a status conference in October. It was buoyed by an e-mail from his law clerk: “Judge Lenski wanted you to know that he plans on having his decision out early next week in this case.”

That was the first week of November. No ruling was filed and Town Council voted again this month to ask for another status conference.

At issue is Georgetown County’s plan to to build a 205-foot-long rock groin in front of the public parking lot on the south end of Pawleys Island. The county said the project, originally estimated to cost $375,000, is needed to protect the parking lot and is less expensive than hauling sand to the beach to maintain the dunes.

The town of Pawleys Island supports the project because the 80 public parking spaces help make the island eligible for state and federal funds for beach nourishment projects.

The Administrative Law Court isn’t the only source of delay for the project.

The county applied for state and federal permits to build the groin in 2008. After a 2009 hearing, permitting agencies asked for more information about the project. Neither the county nor its consultant, Applied Technology and Management, responded. The county withdrew its application in January 2010 to avoid a denial.

In 2011, the application process began again. The state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management issued the permit in September 2012. A permit was issued by the state in September 2012. The decision was appealed by the Coastal Conservation League and the local chapters of the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters.

The appellants argued at the hearing before Lenski that the county was in default for failing to respond to pleadings. The county was not represented at the hearing. The attorney for Coastal Resources, Brad Chadur, argued that there were issues about the groin permit that need to be argued at trial.

At the same hearing, Town Attorney David DuRant asked that Pawleys Island be allowed to intervene in the case to defend the permit.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” DuRant told Town Council following the latest delay.

Attorneys, who declined to speak on the record, say they are puzzled by the delay unless Lenski is awaiting a ruling in some other case that may affect the issues in this matter. The attorneys in the groin permit appeal are in a tough position, because if they press the judge for a ruling they may get one that’s unfavorable.

Meanwhile, the town is working on other permits to repair eroded dunes along the island. If the groin permit is upheld, Mayor Bill Otis said it won’t make a difference right now. “I’m not even thinking about that,” he said.

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