Contempt-of-court motion possible in Hilton Head beach-access battle

dburley@islandpacket.comJune 15, 2014 

Beachgoers walk along a narrow beach path, right, at the corner of Avocet Road and Dune Lane on Friday. The Forest Beach Property Owners Association has been in a years-long legal fight with Carolyn Austin, owner of the house at center, over the strip of land next to her house. The homeowners association says it owns the property, and the courts have agreed, requiring Austin to remove a gate, brick columns, planters and 20 feet of trees from the eastern end of the Avocet Road.

JAY KARR — Staff photo Buy Photo

A Hilton Head Island woman who has fought a decade-long property battle over beach access might be headed back to court.

Carolyn Austin, who has battled since 2004 to block a beach access beside her home in North Forest Beach, has not moved enough trees and shrubs to open a path, according to the property owners association that sued her.

The association says she has until late July to comply or its lawyers will ask a judge to hold her in contempt of court.

Attempts Friday to reach Austin were unsuccessful.

Austin put up brick columns and a gate, grew shrubs and trees and took her case all the way to the S.C. Supreme Court, spending more than $200,000 on legal fees, she has said.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the case last year, forcing her to comply with a 2009 Beaufort County court order. The order required her to remove the impediments and surrender control of the beach access to the Forest Beach Owners Association.

While Austin has removed some trees, done some trimming and taken down the gate, she hasn't fully complied with the court order, according to association president Jack Daly.

Austin said she owns the narrow strip of land beside her house, which she uses as a driveway, and did not want it used by others. The homeowners association says it owns the property, and the courts agreed.

"We own it," Daly said. "We've always owned it. And she's never won one motion in court."

Russell Patterson, the association's attorney, said Austin switched lawyers last week, giving her an extra 30 days to comply with the order.

If she doesn't, he'll ask for the contempt-of-court motion to be heard, he said.

Patterson said he doesn't think Austin will face jail time. But she could be fined.

"The judge has a wide discretion as to what remedies can be used to force her to comply with the order," he said.

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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