Residents of Cabin Road on Hunting Island State Park say they won't let a mandatory evacuation order stop them from enjoying their beach-front cottages while they still can.
Shoreline erosion and high tides have brought the Atlantic Ocean right to their decks and porches, taking out the sand dunes and palmetto trees -- and washing some cabins into the water.
"We know it's only a matter of time before we lose the place," said Bernie Kole, who has leased his Cabin Road cottage for 12 years and watched helplessly as erosion cut hundreds of feet of beach from his property. "But the place is still there. It brings new meaning to the term 'oceanfront.'"
Beaufort County Council Chairman Weston Newton signed the evacuation order last week for 12 cottages on Cabin Road, where erosion has washed away the street, presenting a challenge to crews responding to emergencies there. The county will not forcibly remove anyone from their cabins, Newton said.
Meanwhile, the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, which owns and maintains Hunting Island and administers cabin leases, has no plans to shore-up Cabin Road or improve vehicle access.
"You'd have to be building the road underwater," said department spokesman Marion Edmonds. "The ocean has come in; it literally has taken the road away and that's really not an option we have now."
But residents -- many of whom get to their cottages by foot or golf cart along the island's back roads -- blame the state for failing to appropriately address erosion on the southernmost end of the island in the first place.
Toni Ashley bought her Cabin Road cottage in 2001 as a respite from her home in Atlanta. She said she has contacted state park officials several times about the toll erosion has taken on her property and estimates she lost at least 150 feet of sand in the weeks after a beach renourishment project was done in the northern area of the island.
"(The state says) the renourishment project that they had performed did not cause the beach erosion, but I believe with all my heart that it did," Ashley said. "We started losing sand as soon as they started the project, and to me it's a no-brainer. The state of South Carolina has done everything they could to get us out of there."
Edmonds agreed most of the renourishment work has been in the northern region of the island, where more than 90 percent of visitors spend their time. But state park officials meet regularly with county staff to discuss safety needs in southern areas like Cabin Road and devise ways to slow its deterioration, he said.
"I understand why there's a lot of concern," said Edmonds, who visited the island a week or two ago.
"The reality is that at the current time, the environment is going to continue to eat away at that southern end. We're not going to try and fight that with extraordinary measures; it's not a responsible use of taxpayer dollars to do that," he said. "It's not impossible that the erosion could cease, but if it doesn't, we'll be looking at the responsible way."
Cabin Road resident Diane Collins said she doesn't want to "cause a ruckus" over the erosion problems and the evacuation order, but plans to stay put for as long as possible.
"We really have access -- we have a golf cart, we go down the path, and we get into our car," said Collins, who permanently moved to the island about two years ago with her husband.
"We've always come down to Hunting Island. Our children grew up here. We have all the necessities of life and we love our retirement here," she said. "We're hoping that Mother Nature will change her mind and go somewhere else."