Researchers say South Carolina’s coastal communities are in the early stages of a revitalization as population grows and people use the water in different ways.
That could mean continued changes for the long-held occupations of fishing and shrimping along the coast. A team from Clemson University and S.C. Sea Grant Consortium studied the current conditions of several working waterfronts in the state, including Port Royal, and identified advantages and challenges of each.
The work included meeting with focus groups over the course of several months in 2015 in Murrells Inlet, Georgetown, McClellanville, Shem Creek and Port Royal.
And while the conversation isn’t new to those in the northern Beaufort County village, the study could lay the groundwork for future research in Port Royal or spur ideas for a path forward.
“Our real goal was to share your stories,” Julie Davis, of the Sea Grant Consortium, said during a public meeting about the study at the Clemson Extension office in Burton on Monday.
Those who led the study noted Port Royal’s deep port and that the town boasts the only working waterfront with public support — the town manages its shrimp docks and will own them as part of a land swap when the state’s former port property sells.
In each of the other communities, researchers heard calls for more local government support. But despite government commitment, an ongoing issue in Port Royal is the lack of working boats on the docks, town officials said.
Joey Holleman, a writer for the Sea Grant Consortium who penned a final report on the state’s waterfronts, said Port Royal’s community involvement stood out amidst its challenges.
“There is the passion that gives you the confidence that things are going to work out,” he said.
Among the topics raised Monday was whether the public should again be involved in the redevelopment of the port property.
A resident asked if the town should revisit a public process from more than a decade ago used to establish development agreements for the S.C. Ports Authority property.
Town Councilman Tom Klein said changing the development agreements now would create legal issues with the potential buyers — the property is currently open to bids. Others noted the future developers could be open to public input.
“I think whoever is buying the property would want good public involvement,” said Susan Lovelace, assistant director of development for the Sea Grant Consortium.
Klein also asked for input on the future of the shrimp docks and how to encourage the shrimpers to work.
Among the suggestions was to promote local seafood to draw visitors.
Craig Reaves, whose family operates Sea Eagle Market and docks on St. Helena Island, offered the example of Wicked Tuna in Murrells Inlet, where diners can watch the catches come in off the dock.
“As docks closed, those guys seized on opportunities,” he said.
Bob Bender, curator of Lowcountry Estuarium, mentioned his plan to incorporate educational components into the redeveloped waterfront. A decommissioned shrimp boat and saltwater-themed miniature golf are among his ideas.
“There are all sorts of creative things that can be done to make this a viable, working waterfront,” he said.