Town orders homeowners to remove dune carpets or face fines

Now that most of the carpet along private beach paths on Lawton Beach has been pulled up, the Town of Hilton Head Island has shifted its focus north.

Homeowners in Folly Field were told this month to remove their carpet, too.

Property owners association president Jim Crispen says the community began placing the carpet along three beach paths about 30 years ago at the recommendation of the Sierra Club as a way to stabilize the paths.

Like those in Forest Beach, Folly Field homeowners began using carpet before the town was incorporated.

The town, however, considers the carpet litter, and state environmental regulations prohibit its placement.

"What we're being accused of is ludicrous," Crispen said. "The carpet is not litter. It has helped considerably in stabilizing the dune. ... It's demeaning for the town to accuse the POA of littering when the purpose is to preserve the (beach) strand and the dunes."

Crispen said the association hopes to persuade the mayor and Town Council to allow continued use of the carpet.

But town staff attorney Brian Hulbert said island and state rules are clear: Carpet is not appropriate for a walkway to the beach.

Carpet contains compounds and adhesives that could harm the environment and stifle plant growth by interfering with the passage of water and nutrients through the dune system, town officials said.

Since the dunes provide an natural defense against beach erosion, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control encourages the use of elevated wooden walkovers rather than carpet to avoid harming oceanfront dunes, a spokesman said.

The town gave the Folly Field owners association until June 1 to remove the carpet -- which means digging up the dunes -- or face a fine ranging from $10 to $500.

Both groups of homeowners say they can't afford a wooden elevated walkway that would be needed to access the beach.

Town Councilwoman Kim Likins, who represents the area, has asked the town to hold off enforcement until an environmentalist can assess whether the carpet has damaged the dunes.

"I appreciate if you're starting from scratch, you shouldn't be allowed to put carpet down," Likins said. "But considering it's been like this for 30 years ... why now? I truly don't understand what the point of this is, if in fact there is no harm being done."

The dispute has left Forest Beach resident Carl Joyner, who is in a wheelchair, unable to get to the beach from his home.

Forest Beach Owners Association president Jack Daly has removed about three-quarters of the remnants Joyner and neighbors say prevent erosion when people walk and roll carts and strollers over the dunes. The carpet, they say, captures sand like a mini fence and distributes a person's weight over a wide area to prevent sinking into the sand.

Daly has replaced the carpet with pine straw and mulch to stabilize the paths and keep them passable, but Joyner says it does him and others who are disabled or frail no good.

"My wheels dig down right through it," Joyner said. "Mulch is not the answer without some sort of surface underneath that's fairly rigid." Mulch also deteriorates quickly and has to be replaced, he added.

The association recently granted the town access at Elderberry Lane so emergency vehicles can pull up to the dunes and get to the beach quickly.

Daly hoped the easement could also lead to a walkway that would comply with federal disability requirements and provide pedestrian access for most of Lawton Beach.

Town manager Steve Riley, however, said there are no plans to build pedestrian or vehicle access to the beach. Doing so would be too costly and unnecessary, he said.

"They offered the easement and we took it as something that might benefit us, but the fire chief didn't see that it accomplished anything for his purposes," Riley said.

He noted there are public, handicapped-accessible beach paths nearby at Alder Lane and Coligny Beach Park, as well as at Folly Field Beach Park.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

Related Content:Carpet on beach paths is litter, town says; residents object: Feb. 11, 2012

Town of Hilton Head Island Municipal Code: Dune protection (Sec. 8-1-411; 8-1-413)

S.C. DHEC: Frequently Asked Questions -- Beachfront Property