Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head officials shy from state funding for beach renourishment

bheffernan@islandpacket.comJanuary 21, 2013 

In this file photo, beachgoers gather for a picture on the recently constructed groin at Hilton Head Island's heel.

FILE/STAFF PHOTO — File/Staff photo

A state group has recommended that the legislature establish reliable funding for beach renourishment in coastal communities, but Hilton Head officials say the town is better off continuing to pay its own way for the expensive projects.

Even if such a funding source were set up by the state, the money would probably come with "strings attached" and loads of paperwork, a town official said.

Using money from the state would make sense if funds came without conditions, assistant town manager Greg DeLoach said.

"Any way that we could reduce relying on the local taxpayer would be fine, as long as it wouldn't handcuff us," but it's unlikely that would be the case, he said.

Historically, the town has paid most of costs of beach renourishment on its own because doing so results in "a cleaner project usually," DeLoach said.

RELIABLE FUNDING NEEDED

One of the recommendations in a report released Wednesday by a coastal study commission urged the General Assembly to establish a steady, reliable source of funding for beach renourishment. The trust fund was among 17 recommendations by the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management that addressed beach erosion in South Carolina and beachfront development.

Hilton Head Island has spent about $40 million on four beach renourishment projects since 1997, with less than 2 percent of the money coming from the state, according to Scott Liggett, director of public projects and facilities for the town.

The town has relied almost entirely on revenue from a 2 percent local tax on overnight lodging. The town started collecting the tax in 1993, but before that looked to the state to help pay for its first renourishment project in 1990. That money came with public access requirements.

Tied to $2.5 million in state funding for the $9 million project was the stipulation that the town provide more than 2,000 parking spaces for beachgoers by 1996. In 1998, the state agreed to 1,400 spaces by December 2008.

In its latest project, the town received $800,000 from the state in exchange for opening up 25 metered parking places for the general public at Islanders Beach Park.

Another problem with relying on the state for renourishment money is that it is an unreliable source; some years the money is available but other years it might not be, state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said.

"The state's management of its coastal resources has been too piecemeal for too long, and our beaches and estuarine shorelines will benefit from the comprehensive approach suggested by the (study commission's) final report," Davis said.

It should be easier for the town to continue paying for beach renourishment on its own because the projects are expected to cost less.

Beach erosion on Hilton Head has slowed, so renourishment projects in the next 20 years probably will be smaller in scale and less expensive than in the past, Liggett said. The island's beaches are losing 70,000 to 100,000 cubic yards of sand per year -- about half the rate of the 1980s, when the town began considering renourishment to preserve the shoreline -- he said.

The island is about 200 feet wider than it was when the program started because of renourishment projects, he added.

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

The beach study commission also recommended moving the build-line on the state's beaches 30 feet further inland and leaving it there even if beaches become wider, banning most types of groins and less dependence on sandbags for protection.

The commission's recommendations will be considered and voted on by the board of the Department of Health and Environmental Control and may be taken up by the General Assembly.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.

Related content:

Storm brings widespread beach erosion, Oct. 14, 2011

Island council awards contract for Port Royal beach renourishment, OKs borrowing, Aug. 2, 2011

Beach law needs work, commission says, The (Columbia) State, Jan. 17, 2013

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