071317 Pawleys Island: Town takes quest for court ruling to next level
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Sand is hauled past the parking lot after Hurricane Matthew. The county wants to build a groin in front of the lot.

Pawleys Island: Town takes quest for court ruling to next level

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The town of Pawleys Island has decided that a bad ruling is better than no ruling in its effort to defend a state permit to allow construction of a groin in front of the public parking lot on the island’s south end. Town Council this week asked its attorney to go over the head of the Administrative Law Court judge who heard the case in November 2013 but has yet to issue a ruling.

In March, Town Attorney David DuRant wrote Judge Phillip Lenski to request a either a ruling or status conference on the case. He got a reply on March 31 from the judge’s law clerk saying “the order will be done and out next week.” No order was filed.

“Write to the next level above him,” Council Member Sarah Zimmerman told DuRant. Other members agreed.

DuRant said he will contact the chief judge of the Administrative Law Court, Ralph K. Anderson III. “I’ll probably hear something within two weeks,” DuRant said afterward. He has been reluctant in the past to press the court on the theory that the town might not get the ruling it wants. But he told the council last month he hasn’t has a case in over 30 years in practice that took this long to decide.

Georgetown County received a permit in 2012 to build a 205-foot-long rock and concrete groin in front of the parking lot, which it owns. It initiated the project in 2008 saying the structure is needed to protect the parking lot from erosion. While new groins are generally prohibited, state law allows them to be built to protect public facilities that are threatened by erosion.

The Coastal Conservation League and local chapters of the Sierra Club and League of Women Voters challenged the permit.

They argued that the low erosion rate on Pawleys Island doesn’t justify the groin, which they say will harm nearby habitat used by endangered and threatened species.

At the November 2013 hearing, the opponents also argued in a motion for a summary judgement that the permit should be voided on procedural grounds because Georgetown County decided not to defend the permit and didn’t respond to pleadings. The state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management asked the court to uphold its staff decision to issue the permit, but the agency’s attorney acknowledged that he wasn’t representing the county.

The town of Pawleys Island wants to intervene in the case to defend the permit. DuRant made that argument before Lenski in 2013.

The town obtained a construction easement for the groin project from the owner of an unbuildable tract south of the county-owned parking lot in 2012. It expires in 2022. “Time is of the essence for the town,” DuRant told the judge in March.

The town has also sought assurance from Georgetown County that it will build the groin if the permit is upheld. The project was initially estimated to cost $375,000. County Administrator Sel Hemingway told Mayor Bill Otis and Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri he will ask County Council to confirm whether it still wants to fund the project.

When it was first proposed, the groin was seen as a way to protect public beach access, which would help the town qualify for federal funds for beach nourishment. Since then, the town has embarked on a $13.3 million nourishment project using state funds to match money it has set aside for the beach. Although the beach in front of the county property isn’t included in the project, engineers say the additional groin would help trap sand pumped onto other parts of the island’s beach.

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