Hilton Head woman loses long fight to prevent beach access

tbarton@islandpacket.comNovember 17, 2013 

For nearly 10 years, a Hilton Head Island woman has waged a legal battle to block a beach access beside her home in North Forest Beach.

Carolyn Austin, 76, has put up a wall and gate, grown shrubs and trees and taken her case all the way to the S.C. Supreme Court, spending more than $200,000 on legal fees, she says.

But the Supreme Court recently declined to hear the case, and now she must abide by a 2009 court order to surrender control of the access to the Forest Beach Owners Association.

Austin claims she owns the narrow strip of land and doesn't want it used by others.

The homeowners association says it owns the property, and four courts have agreed.

But Austin is still fighting.

The association has been talking with Austin and the Town of Hilton Head Island to get her to comply with a 2009 Beaufort County court order requiring her to remove brick columns, a large metal gate, trees, shrubs and plants she placed on the property that prevent homeowners from using Avocet Street to reach the beach.

Austin has until early December to comply, association executive director John Snodgrass said.

It is not clear, however, if she will.

Austin insists she'll continue fighting what she calls an injustice.

"I'm not quitting," she said last week. "If the Attorney General will hear me, I'll go to him ... and I'll go to the governor."

She has talked to a town environmental planner about which trees, plants and shrubs must be removed, but says uprooting them would be a "travesty."

Cutting a path from her lot line to the beach would allow a gully of water to rush toward her property during a storm, undermining her home, she says.

"This is an injustice. This is not right," Austin said. "If we don't stand up for what's right, we will lose this country to the lawyers. South Carolina has a rotten legal system, and people are getting hurt by these lawyers, and nobody's doing anything about this."

Should Austin not comply with the order, the association will take her back to court, Snodgrass said.

"But we hope at this point, the battles, so to speak, are over, and we can move forward in opening up that access ... for the benefit of all the property owners and their guests," Snodgrass said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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