A major Hunting Island State Park beach restoration project will avoid sea turtle nesting season, though it's still unknown when work will begin as the plans could be headed for court.
South Carolina park officials settled some of the objections to the planned renourishment project by agreeing not to work while turtles are active on park beaches between May and October, conservation groups said this week.
The deal would also reduce the number of groins — hard structures extending from the beach into the ocean to trap and build up sand — from four to one, with an option to build a second.
However, another group plans to contest the permit in state court and a required federal permit is still under review.
The state plans to pump 1.2 million cubic yards of sand onto Hunting Island's beaches to offset rapid erosion. The scope of the project grew after Hurricane Matthew further eroded the beach and decimated dunes in 2016.
Park officials hoped to restore the beach early this year. But the permit was contested by the Coastal Conservation League and property owners on Harbor Island and Fripp Island.
The conservation group had argued the groins negatively affect other areas of the beach.
"We cannot justify the additional installation of groins with every storm," said Amy Armstrong, executive director and general counsel of the S.C. Environmental Law Project, which represented the Coastal Conservation League in contesting the original permit. "Instead, we must take stock of what residents and visitors love about Hunting Island — access to a natural coastline."
A state parks spokeswoman declined to comment on the status of the project Thursday, citing the ongoing regulatory process and saying control is out of the agency's hands.
The agreement means the conservationists won't take their objections to court, but the case could still end up there. A group of Harbor Island property owners requested a hearing in S.C. Administrative Law Court to contest the decision to issue the permit.
Beachfront property owners in the private community just north of the state park have contended that past renourishment projects and installation of groins at the state park have piled up sand in the nearby inlet and blocked the natural flow of sand to Harbor beaches. The property owners contend the state hasn't adequately monitored the effects of past projects.
They asked in their request for a hearing that the permit assess and fix "current downdrift beach damage" and include independent monitoring of the effect of renourishment on downdrift beaches.
Officials with the state, Coastal Conservation League and Armstrong's organization met in recent weeks to settle the conservation groups' objection to the groins and desire to avoid disruptions to turtles and nesting birds.
A required federal permit is still pending with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"Through this entire process, (state) officials have been open to exploring reasonable solutions to Hunting Island's rapid erosion," said Kate Schaefer, South Coast Office director for the Coastal Conservation League. "This outcome is the right one for our environment, economy and the future of Hunting Island State Park."