060817 Beaches: County wants to update 25-year-old management plan
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Sand was pumped from Murrells Inlet to the beach at Garden City earlier this year.

Beaches: County wants to update 25-year-old management plan

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Two hurricanes in two years has Georgetown County poised to update its beachfront management plan for the first time in 25 years. A County Council committee this week agreed to recommend spending $10,000 for a consultant to start the process.

How far the county takes the plan will depend on whether the state continues to make funds available for beach nourishment projects as it did after Hurricane Joaquin in 2015.

“It doesn’t have to be a $100,000 beachfront management plan,” said Nicole Elko, a geologist who has a consulting firm in Folly Beach and who serves as executive director of S.C. Beach Advocates. She met with the council’s Land Use and Tourism Committee.

“That’s good,” County Administrator Sel Hemingway said.

State law requires local governments along the coast to review their beach plan every five years and update it every 10 years. Georgetown County’s plan was last updated in 1992. Although the county has 34 miles of coastline, the management plan only covers the Waccamaw Neck outside the town of Pawleys Island.

With an updated plan approved by the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, the county would be able to seek state funds and potentially get federal funds to maintain its beaches after hurricanes. Federal funds would come from qualifying as an “engineered beach” under criteria from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But that would also require the county to commit to maintain the beach profile through periodic renourishment.

The county needs to know more about the benefits before it can decide whether it needs to dedicate funds for beach management, Council Member John Thomas said. State and federal beach nourishment projects have traditionally focused on protecting property from storm damage. “We don’t need to miss out on the economic impact,” Council Member Austin Beard said. “It’s commonly referred to as the golden goose.”

State funding was an issue local leaders raised with Gov. Henry McMaster last week when he stopped in the county to promote awareness of emergency planning at the start of the hurricane season. “We discussed that at some length,” he said at a press conference. “I think it is a statewide responsibility. We have a lot of economic engines in the state. Tourism is one of them.”

It will take the support of the governor to convince lawmakers that beaches aren’t just a local issue, State Rep. Lee Hewitt said. “People around the state don’t realize how bad the coast was affected” by Hurricane Matthew, he said, adding that at the start of the tourist season, “Our beaches still aren’t ready.”

“If our beaches are not attractive to people, then a lot of other things will fail as well,” McMaster said. “Not only is this very important, but I think the responsibility lies much more broadly than just with the taxpayers and those who live on the coast.”

Hemingway was among those who met with McMaster and found his comments reassuring. But Elko told the council committee this week that managing the beachfront doesn’t need to be a full-fledged renourishment project. It could involve maintaining a healthy dune system. “You’re not just reacting to storms and events,” she said.

The county recently pumped sand from Murrells Inlet onto the beach at Garden City and is funding another project there as part of a larger effort in Horry County. But the county is frustrated because FEMA wants it to remove temporary berms at Garden City that were pushed up after Hurricane Matthew washed away the dune. In addition, staff say they get conflicting information from state and federal agencies.

With a beachfront management plan, “you won’t have these problems with FEMA,” Elko said.

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