Town lays groundwork for acquiring last 3 beach easements – Coastal Observer


Town lays groundwork for acquiring last 3 beach easements

Groins that were covered by the renourishment in 2020 are starting to reappear on Pawleys Island.

Pawleys Island Town Council this week took the first step toward acquiring three easements it needs to be eligible for federal funds to renourish 1.3 miles of beach on the island’s south end.

Mayor Brian Henry said he hopes the town, the Army Corps of Engineers and three property owners who challenged the easements in court can reach an agreement to let the project move forward.

“This is the best way forward,” he said.

The easements are required by the Corps for construction and maintenance of the renourished beach. As a federal project, the south end of the island will be eligible for funding to repair storm damage and place sand on the beach periodically over 45 years.

The town completed a $14.8 million renourishment project in 2020 using its own funds and a state grant. It later signed an agreement to allow the Corps to participate with installation of dune plants and sand fencing on the south end, which made it a federal project.

But the town needed easements from 113 beachfront property owners. It had 110. It tried to condemn the three easements in 2020, even though they were not required for the town-funded project. The property owners succeeded in having the condemnation quashed in Circuit Court. Appeals are still pending over the award of legal fees granted to the property owners and whether the court should have allowed them to continue to seek an order enjoining future condemnations.

The resolution adopted this week sets four criteria the council will use in deciding whether to condemn the easements in the future:

• whether the project can be done and funded by the federal government without the easements;

• whether the cost of acquiring the easements will be less than the amount of federal funding;

• whether the easement area required by the Corps “is reasonably necessary”;

• whether the language required by the Corps’ standard easement could be altered in a way that would be acceptable to all parties.

“No single factor shall be dispositive,” the resolution states, and it reserves the right to amend the criteria.

Town Administrator Dan Newquist will collect the information and give the property owners 30 days notice to submit proposed changes. 

He will give them 60 days notice to provide any additional information, provided it doesn’t exceed 10 pages per property or 30 pages for a single submittal that covers all three.

Barry Stanton, one of the property owners and an attorney who is representing himself and his two neighbors – Frank Beattie and Sunset Lodge LLC – told the town in written comments to the council that they didn’t need to wait.

“Let’s not waste more time,” he said.

Stanton asked the town to move the easement boundaries beyond the decks on their property and at least 20 feet from the foundation of the main structure.  

The easement needs to state that there is no “public access or use” of the dunes and that it doesn’t affect the owners’ “littoral rights” that give them access to the ocean.

Even though the easements are called “perpetual,” they need to terminate when federal funding for the project ends or if the project is discontinued, Stanton said.

The work done in the easement areas “will be governed only by law,” he said. “Not the whim of an unnamed designated representative” as cited in the easement document.

And the easement holder, which is the town or its designee, may not restrict that owners’ access to the dune area.

Stanton urged the council not to adopt the resolution. “It appears to be a mere show and window dressing calculated to fail,” he said.

Instead he urged the town to drop the partnership with the Corps.

“I hope your do understand that Corps involvement is not merely ‘Corps’ funding.’ It requires surrendering your ability to control what happens to Pawleys, its beach, its owners, and its pocketbook,” he said.

Council Member Rocky Holliday noted that there is funding at risk for the south end and other parts of the island.

After Hurricane Ian in October 2022, the Corps received $14 million to replace sand on the south end that was lost to erosion. The Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to fund 75 percent of the cost of repairing erosion damage for the rest of the island to about Third Street. 

The state Emergency Management Division agreed to provide the 25 percent local match for that work.

“I would say $5 million as an estimate,” Henry said.

Doing all the work at once would limit the cost of mobilizing a dredge, which would pump the replacement sand from offshore.

The work was originally proposed to be done this winter. Without the easements, the Corps pushed that back to the winter of 2025. Henry said he expects to see it completed in early 2026.

Henry said the council resolution was drafted by Will Dillard, a Columbia attorney who specializes in eminent domain and who is representing the town in the appeals from the failed condemnations.

“I’m comfortable with it,” he said. “It’s a way for both sides to come to some sort of agreement.”

Earlier this year, the commander of the Corps’ South Atlantic District told state and local officials that he knows easements are a challenge and subject of push-back from property owners.

“We have flexibility when we do these easements without our real estate districts,” Brig. Gen. Daniel Hibner told the S.C. Beach Advocates.

Henry serves on the board of that group. He said he hasn’t heard anymore about the easement issue from the Corps.



Georgetown County Board of Education: First and third Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Beck Education Center. For details, go to Georgetown County Council: Second and fourth Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Council Chambers, 129 Screven St., Georgetown. For details, go to Pawleys Island Town Council: Second Mondays, 5 p.m. Town Hall, 323 Myrtle Ave. For details, go to   , .