Pawleys Island takes over defense of beach groin

One of 23 beach groins currently on Pawleys Island. / Lisa Edge

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. (WPDE) - The town of Pawleys Island wants to add another beach groin to its shore to help protect it from beach erosion. The Department of Health and Environmental Control approved it, but environmental groups are challenging the decision in court.

Pawleys Island is less than four miles long and along its shore are 23 beach groins. They're concrete, wood and rock structures built to hold sand in place. The town wants to add another on the south end to protect the county's biggest beach access parking lot.

Town Mayor Bill Otis said the groins are doing their job and a recent study supports his belief. "The groin itself has been noted by a number of engineers as being important to protect that public beach access. The latest one was by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2005 where they specifically stated a small groin at the location where this one is going to be about the same size as this one was needed to protect this parking lot and would not cause down drift problems."

A recent appeal by Sierra Club, Coastal Conservation League and the League of Women Voters of Georgetown County was turned down, but they filed another in administrative law court.

Nancy Cave, with the Coastal Conservation League, said hardened structures are not the way to protect the shore.

"Building a groin is not an answer, is not a sustainable answer. It is perhaps a short term solution. It is damaging to the down drift beaches," Cave explained. "You can do beach renourishment but ultimately with sea level rise we've got to look at other alternatives."

Once the three groups submitted a second appeal, Georgetown County decided not to further defend the permit in court. The town is now paying for the legal fees with the understanding the county will build the $375,000 groin if DHEC's decision is upheld.

The town has another objective for preserving sand on the south end.

"We needed some of those parking spaces down there so in the future we can get federal or state funding for beach access," added Otis.

Cave said since Pawleys Island is a barrier island, it's going to naturally shift. "We're talking about almost a living island that is changing all the time and when you think about that and you put in a groin, you really aren't accomplishing again much in the long run."

Despite the disagreement on how to protect the coastline, preserving it is the goal of both. The proposed groin cannot be built until the appeal process is over.