Hilton Head Island resident Carl Joyner pushes his wheelchair down Firethorn Lane to the edge of the pavement and stops. He can go no farther.
He looks at the soft, sandy path before him leading to Lawton Beach and points to the rolled sections of carpet lying next to the road.
Joyner and neighbors on Firethorn Lane have been using carpet since 1982 -- before the town was incorporated -- to stabilize beach paths near their homes in Forest Beach. But island officials and others prohibit the practice and have ordered the carpet removed.
Joyner and some of his neighbors argue the remnants prevent erosion when people walk and roll their carts and strollers to and from the beach over the dunes. The carpet, Joyner says, distributes a person's weight over a wide area to prevent sinking down into the sand.
They also argue the carpet acts as a "mini sand fence." The carpet's fibers capture the sand, and the remnants soon become buried. In the past, when that happens and the dune needed to be restored, another layer of carpet was added and the process repeated, Joyner said.
More important, it allows disabled people like him access to the beach, he said.
Problem is, the Town of Hilton Head Island considers the carpet litter, and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control prohibits its placement. And though it may help Joyner reach the beach, the carpet does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Lawton Holdings, a group of owners that acquired the property, transferred ownership of the dune strand to the Forest Beach Owners Association last year. Under that agreement, which includes a conservation easement held by the Beaufort County Open Land Trust, the association must work with the town to remove all carpet.
That means digging up the dunes as much as three feet deep, Joyner said.Removing the carpet may do more harm than good, according to residents, a Town Council member and a state official.
However, Jack Daly, president of the Forest Beach Owners Association, has already removed some of the carpet. He dug a foot-deep hole along one walkway.
"Trust me, I am not pulling up carpet for fun or exercise. I am only trying to comply with the regulations," Daly said. "My main goal is to not be found in violation of the terms of the memorandum of agreement or conservation easement and lose the property."He has since been told to stop at the direction of the area's Town Council representative, Kim Likins.
"I'm trying to find out if that's the best thing to do," Likins said of digging up the dunes.
DHEC also wants the town and association to hold off on digging, said spokesman Dan Burger.
"DHEC will need to evaluate any proposal that would impact the sand dunes further ... and a permit may be required," Burger wrote in an email.
If the buried carpet must go, DHEC probably will require the dunes be reconstructed and supported with sand fencing, vegetation or both, he wrote.
Sand dunes provide an invaluable natural defense against beach erosion, Burger said. That's why DHEC encourages use of elevated wooden walkovers to avoid harming oceanfront dunes, he wrote.
Daly said he is working with the town to create an ADA-compliant, "ecologically correct" walkway, similar to the town's public-beach access at Alder Lane.
The town uses Mobi-Mat, which does not contain compounds that can harm the environment, like carpet and the adhesives applied to it typically do, town facilities manager Julian Walls said. The mesh matting, which is ADA-compliant, is placed on the beach at the end of existing walkways, not over the dunes.
A wooden elevated walkway would still be needed, but the owners association has little money to build it. Dues are voluntary and most do not pay, Daly said. He hopes the town would contribute.
Joyner and others, however, are adamant the carpet does no harm -- quite the opposite -- and oppose turning their private beach access over to the town.
"What's wrong with this?" Joyner asks as his wife rolls him along a carpet path off Myrtle Lane that has not yet been removed. "Carpet is affordable and it works. The town is insisting that 30 years of sand accumulation through carpet stabilization be destroyed. They are destroying the dunes."
Town staff attorney Brian Hulbert disagrees.
"It's getting something out of the dunes that doesn't belong there," he said. "... We want the dunes to be natural and vegetation to grow."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead