Hunting Island State Park visitors will see a restored beach later than state park officials hoped, though the plan made a step forward this week.
Plans for the biggest ever beach renourishment project at the park are on hold while the permit is contested. The S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism wants to pump 1.2 million cubic yards of sand onto the barrier island's beach and build four low-profile groins to serve as barriers to hold the sand in place.
The scope of the project was expanded after Hurricane Matthew devastated the island in 2016.
State park officials had initially hoped to complete the work early this year. Memorial Day weekend, one of the park's busiest weekends, is less than two months away, and turtle nesting season begins in mid-May.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
But property owners from neighboring Harbor and Fripp islands, along with the Coastal Conservation League, contested the permit after it was issued in February, asking a state board to review the decision. Their concerns included effects of past projects on the neighboring islands, a need for expanded monitoring of the nearby shorelines and upcoming sea turtle nesting season.
On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Environmental Control board of directors declined to reconsider the permitting decision, making the staff decision final. Those wanting to further contest the permit now have 30 days to ask for a hearing in state Administrative Law Court.
With the permit contested, there's no way to know when the work could begin, said Dawn Dawson-House, spokeswoman for SCPRT.
"Everything right now depends on the appeals process," she said in an email this week.
State environmental regulators granted the permit for the work in February. DHEC in March received four requests for a final review conference, a public meeting during which those contesting the permit lay out their case and agency staff defend its decision.
Property owners on Harbor Island, a private community just north of the state park, have contended that past Hunting Island renourishment projects and groins have piled up sand in the nearby inlet and blocked the natural flow of sand to Harbor beaches.
They asked that the permit include a third-party engineering firm to monitor the effect of renourishment on downdrift beaches. They also asked that some of the sand needed for the Hunting Island project be taken from Johnson Creek to allow sand to flow to Harbor Island beach.
In a response, coastal engineers working on behalf of the state said sand has flowed into the inlet from Hunting Island but that it's a natural process and would happen regardless of the planned project.
"Sand erodes from the beach whether it is nourishment sand or native beach sand," Steven Traynum, project manager with Coastal Science and Engineering, wrote DHEC in response to the Harbor Island concerns.
Traynum also said in the letter Harbor Island had not regularly monitored its beach for changes.
The Coastal Conservation League, via attorneys with the S.C. Environmental Law project, asked that the groins be removed from the permit, for more monitoring and that the project not coincide with turtle season. The environmental organization argues the groins lead to more severe erosion down the beach.
Fripp Island property owners asked for expanded monitoring.
Another Hunting Island beach renourishment project had been in the works for months before Hurricane Matthew leveled the beach in 2016 and almost doubled the scope of the project. The additional sand would cover 11,700 feet of shoreline from the campground to South Beach.
State Park Service director Phil Gaines said last year the project is critical to protect the island from further damage after dunes system were wiped out by the storm.