Pawleys renourishment prompts second suit over erosion
A group of property owners at Prince George filed suit this week to have Pawleys Inlet restored to its location prior to beach renourishment by the town of Pawleys Island. They are also seeking payment for millions of dollars in damages they say was caused by the renourishment.
The suit follows one filed last month by a couple that owns two oceanfront lots at Prince George and 1,065 acres that border the inlet and Pawleys Creek.
Both suits name the town of Pawleys Island and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, which permitted the project, as defendants along with the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, which helped the town fund the project. The firm that designed the project, Coastal Science and Engineering, and the firm that did the work, Marinex Construction, were also named as defendants.
The plaintiffs in the latest suit include the owners of 13 of the 21 oceanfront lots in the gated community and three owners of property off the ocean at Prince George that has been impacted by the migration of Pawleys Inlet following the completion of the town’s renourishment project in 2020.
“Erosion caused by accelerated migration of the Inlet has proven even more severe than originally anticipated and is the most rapid erosion ever on the South Carolina coast not caused by a storm event,” according to the suit.
This suit and the previous suit filed by Bud and Melesa Watts highlight a 2009 analysis of Pawleys Inlet by Coastal Science that tied erosion at Prince George to the movement of Pawleys Inlet. A study by the firm the following year predicted that a renourishment project would increase that erosion as sand built up on the island’s southern tip and caused Pawleys Inlet to move farther south.
Coastal Science, which was working for the Prince George Community Association at the time, recommended that a management plan be created to limit the movement of Pawleys Inlet.
“Defendants ignored these documented impacts and developed no plans for management of the Inlet location or mitigation of erosion impacts from the project,” the suit states.
The suit asks the Circuit Court to order the defendants to return Pawleys Inlet to its location in 2008 and restore the beach and dunes at Prince George.
“Monetary damages could not sufficiently compensate the Plaintiffs and provide them with a complete remedy,” according to the filing.
But it also notes that those plaintiffs “have lost millions of dollars in property, property value, profits and face imminent further financial loss.”
They seek damages for negligence, nuisance and unfair trade practices, which would allow them to recover three-times their actual damages.
The Wattses’ suit also claims that the renourishment resulted in an inverse condemnation of their property. In the latest suit, not all the plaintiffs are property owners. Two are family members of property owners who say the erosion has affected their use of the public beach.
The latest suit traces the erosion problems to a 2008 renourishment project by the town of Pawleys Island that pumped about 38,000 cubic yards of sand from the creek onto the beach at the south end. That project “foreshadowed and informed how future renourishment at Pawleys Island would negatively impact Prince George,” the suit states.
The renourishment completed in 2020 placed 1.1 million cubic yards of offshore sand on about 2.5 miles of beach. Most of the sand was placed on the south end, where there was no sand dune and water washed under houses during storms.
The Prince George owners say DHEC failed to follow the law and its own policies in approving a permit for the renourishment without requiring an inlet management plan or mitigation for erosion on the adjacent beach.
The owners also claim they did not receive notice of the town’s permit application.
DHEC approved installation of a revetment on the creek at Beach Bridge Road, to prevent erosion from cutting off access to the 21 oceanfront lots. That showed that the agency “acknowledged the seriousness of the Inlet migration,” the suit claims.