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Pawleys Island: Town renews push for ruling in 2013 groin permit appeal

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The town of Pawleys Island has again asked a state judge for a ruling in a case he heard in November 2013. At issue is a state permit that will allow Georgetown County to build a 205-foot-long groin on the island’s south end to help trap sand in front of the county-owned beach access.

Town Attorney David DuRant wrote Judge Phillip Lenski of the Administrative Law Court last week at the request of Town Council. “We would respectfully request that you rule on these matters so that this case can be advanced,” he wrote. Whether the town has a role in the process is one of the questions that Lenski has yet to answer.

Georgetown County first applied for state and federal permits for the groin in 2008. The structures are only allowed to protect public facilities. The county said that trapping the sand with a groin would be less expensive than hauling upland sand to the beach to offset erosion caused by

storms. The county withdrew its applications when agencies said they were ready to deny them because the county hadn’t provided all the information they needed.

The process began again in 2011. This time, the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management issued the permit. The Coastal Conservation League, Sierra Club and League of Women Voters filed an appeal. The groups say the groin isn’t needed to protect the public parking lot.

Georgetown County decided not to defend the permit, citing the expense of hiring attorneys for the appeal. That led the opponents, through their attorneys at the S.C. Environmental Law Project, to ask that the permit be overturned because the county failed to respond to its pleadings. That motion was the subject of the November 2013 hearing.

Lenski also heard a motion from the town of Pawleys Island asking to be allowed to intervene in the case and defend the county permit. The town wants to make sure that the south end beach access and its 80 parking spaces remain viable because it allows the town to obtain federal and state money for beach nourishment projects.

The property south of the parking lot is privately owned, although unbuildable. The town got construction easements from the owners that will allow the county to build the groin. But while the permit is good for five years after the appeals are settled, the easements will expire in 2022.

“With less than six years left on the construction easements, time is of the essence for the Town of Pawleys Island with moving this matter forward,” DuRant told Lenski in his letter last week.

That’s why the Town Council was willing to take a risk and press the judge for a decision, Mayor Bill Otis said. “No decision is as good as a negative decision,” he said.

If a decision from the Administrative Law Court is appealed to the state Court of Appeals that could push the groin project past the date of the easements, Otis said, and he doesn’t believe they will be extended.

After the hearing in the case Lenski said, “I will make my decision very quickly.” He gave the parties until the end of 2013 to file additional briefs. Since then, he has issued rulings in 244 cases, according to court records. Some simply acknowledge that the case has been dismissed. Other were more complex. The month before the groin permit hearing, Lenski heard arguments in an appeal from Alltel Communications over Department of Revenue ruling that it owed $1.1 million in sales tax and interest. (He ordered the department to recalculate the tax and reduce the interest.)

The Alltel ruling came last November, a month after DuRant contacted Lenski to request a status conference on the groin appeal. He got a reply from his law clerk. “Judge Lenski wanted you to know that he plans on having his decision out early next week in this case,” the clerk told the attorneys in an e-mail dated Oct. 31, 2015.

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