051117 Pawleys Island: After three years doubts cloud groin project
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Georgetown County wants to build a groin in front of the parking lot on the south end of Pawleys Island.
Matt Lee/Coastal Observer

Pawleys Island: After three years doubts cloud groin project

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

After a three and a half year wait the town of Pawleys Island finally got some good news in its effort to defend a state permit to build a rock and concrete groin on the island’s south end. “Judge Lenski asked me to contact you and let you know that the Order will be done and out next week,” Edye Ulmer Moran, clerk to Administrative Law Court Judge Phillip Lenski, told attorneys in an email.

The bad news is the email was sent March 31. No order has been filed.

The town is now questioning whether it wants to pursue the issue as it embarks on two major capital projects and trims its budget to keep pace. “We would basically be giving up on the south end groin,” Council Member Mike Adams said.

Georgetown County first applied in 2008 for state and federal permits to build a 205-foot-long groin in front of the public parking lot it owns on the south end of the island. The project was estimated to cost $375,000. It wasn’t until 2012 that the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management issued a permit for the work. The permit was appealed by the Coastal Conservation League and the local chapters of the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters.

Georgetown County decided not to defend the permit, citing the expense. That prompted the opponents to have the permit invalidated on procedural grounds. The town of Pawleys Island sought to intervene in the process. A hearing was held in November 2013.

And then they waited.

The town obtained an easement from the owners of an unbuildable lot south of the parking area to allow construction of the groin. While the clock won’t start running on the state permit until the appeal is decided, it’s ticking on the easement. And the town isn’t certain Georgetown County is still committed to building the groin.

“Our financial situation is such we’re going to have to have a conversation with Georgetown County,” Mayor Bill Otis said.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway said he believes County Council is still committed to the project. Although the money to build the groin is not set aside, it said it was “most probable” that it would be funded if the permit is upheld.

The town has kept $45,000 in its budget for the groin permit legal costs. But DuRant pointed out to Town Council members this week that Lenski wasn’t happy that the county wasn’t represented at the 2013 hearing. “It’s not going to look good if they don’t have somebody defending their own permit,” he said.

“Perhaps they have not given due consideration to what not defending the permit would mean,” Adams said.

County Attorney Wesley Bryant said the council’s decision not to defend the permit was based on the cost and the fact that Coastal Resources would have an attorney to argue in favor of the permit. He doubted the county would be able to insert itself in the legal proceedings at this stage.

The south end parking lot, with its 80 spaces, is the largest free beach access area in the county. That public access is a factor in obtaining public funds for beach nourishment along the island’s narrow south end.

While the town is currently seeking permits and state funds for a $13.3 million beach nourishment project, Otis noted that the beach in front of the county parking lot is not included. “We would have to go through some hoops to get that permitted,” he said.

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