081717 Beaches: Lack of public access costs town funds for sand project
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The state won’t fund beach nourishment in the town’s historic district.

Beaches: Lack of public access costs town funds for sand project

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The lack of public access in the middle of Pawleys Island will cost the town over $2 million in state funds for a proposed beach nourishment project. The decision by the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to reduce a $6.2 million grant request left town officials puzzled.

The town applied in March for a portion of the $30 million approved by the legislature in 2016 to help repair beaches after Hurricane Joaquin in 2015. The town was already at work on a beach nourishment plan when Hurricane Matthew caused additional erosion last October. The town planned to pump 1.1 million cubic yards of offshore sand onto 2.7 miles of beach at a cost of $13.3 million.

At a meeting with the PRT director Duane Parrish last week, town officials were told the agency will only approve $4,030,000 for the project. That is based “solely on the lack of public beach access in the historic district in the middle of the island,” Council Member Rocky Holliday said. He chairs the town Beach Committee.

PRT used five criteria to review grant requests: environmental impact, public recreation benefit, life of the project, property protection and tourism impact. “Nowhere in those instructions did it indicate that the sole decision factor was beach access,” Holliday said. “If you didn’t pass that hurdle, there was nothing you could do.”

Although the middle of the island lacks public walkways, it is the site of several historic homes and most of the houses are rental properties, as the town noted in its grant application.

“All is not lost,” Holliday said. “We’re not happy with the decision, but we’ve got a way to go.”

The town’s plan calls for over half the sand to be pumped onto almost a mile of beach at the narrow south end of the island from Pritchard Street to the public parking area. The remainder would go on the beach to a point 400 feet north of Pawleys Pier. The project doesn’t extend farther north, where there is more beach access, because the beach is either stable or growing.

Coastal Science and Engineering, the firm that designed the project, is at work on a revised plan to present to the Beach Committee. “I’m still optimistic that we’ll come up with some good ideas,” Holliday said.

The PRT decision followed a ruling from a state Administrative Law Court judge that denied a permit to Georgetown County to construct a groin in front of the south end parking lot. “We have not gotten a lot of good news over the last month,” Mayor Bill Otis said.

The town wanted to intervene in the appeal by conservation groups of the state permit issued for the project. Georgetown County decided not to defend the permit and the judge ruled the county’s lack of response showed it had “abandoned” the permit. The town’s motion to intervene was rendered moot. “From a legal practical standpoint this deal is dead,” Town Attorney David DuRant said.

The county first applied for the groin permit in 2008. The last three and a half years were spent waiting for the judge to issue a ruling. County Administrator Sel Hemingway told the town that the county doesn’t want to spend more time or money on the project.

Nor does the county have any money to allocate to the south end parking lot, which the county owns, in the town’s beach nourishment project. “There’s no interest in being included in that,” Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said.

In the meantime, island property owners will be watching for new state maps that set the limit of construction along the beachfront. The state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management is due to issue an update to its “baseline” this fall. Under state law, this is the last time that baseline can move east. “This is a pretty important process this year,” Otis said.

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