A major project to restore Hunting Island’s beaches shouldn’t move forward without including neighboring islands in the work, nearby property owners say.
South Carolina state park officials are poised to pump 1.2 million cubic yards onto Hunting Island beaches starting early next year and to build new barriers to keep sand in place. Because of the devastation of Hurricane Matthew in October, the scope of work is almost double a previous proposal in early 2016.
Residents of Harbor Island, a gated community just north of the state park, say building the groins and past renourishment projects on Hunting Island have contributed at least in part to severe erosion and subsequent property damage there. They say the state hasn’t fulfilled mandates to monitor and rectify the effects of past Hunting Island projects. They are asking to be included in the upcoming permit, and that the state break up a sandy barricade in Johnson Creek Inlet and pump sand onto Harbor Island’s depleted beach.
The requests from Harbor Island residents came in letters to state environmental officials during a recent public comment period for the S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism application for the beach renourishment. A public hearing on the project will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sept. 12 at St. Helena Branch Library on St. Helena Island.
Harbor Island Owners Association president Karl Mack said in a letter to state environmental officials that no known monitoring has taken place on the island and even a casual link between Hunting Island groins and Harbor Island’s damaged beachfront homes could be deemed the state “taking” those properties by eminent domain.
“While there is no question Hurricane Matthew greatly exacerbated the problem, there were significant concerns raised prior thereto,” Mack wrote in a letter to S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management and provided by DHEC.
Coastal Science and Engineering acknowledged in its permit request last year that sand that built up in the Johnson Creek Inlet is keeping waves from pushing sand onto Harbor Island’s beach, but said that the process is the result of natural changes occurring in other inlets.
Monitoring since the most recent Hunting Island renourishment showed the groins’ effects were limited to the areas just north of the groins and don’t affect adjacent beaches, Coastal Science officials wrote in the permit application last year.
But many aren’t convinced.
Fripp Island property owners, state and federal wildlife officials and a nonprofit conservation group were among those to also weigh in during the comment period for the current application.
Among the other responses submitted to DHEC:
▪ Fripp Island property owners say they haven’t received reports on the effect of past Hunting Island projects and that it isn’t clear whether monitoring efforts have adequately assessed Fripp Island.
They believe the most recent Hunting Island beach renourishment in 2006 and 2007 could have negatively affected the bridge to Fripp Island, altered the inlet and undermined the rock wall along Fripp’s shore.
“Even small changes to the inlet configuration driven by the proposed project could be disastrous for the bridge and all of Fripp,” Mary Shahid, the property owners’ attorney, wrote to DHEC.
▪ South Carolina wildlife officials urged their state colleagues to avoid the beach project during turtle nesting season, from May 1 through Oct. 31. The project is currently planned for early 2018.
Department of Natural Resources coastal environmental coordinator Susan Davis also noted that the pumping sand and building groins could also affect shorebirds, notably the threatened piping plover and red knot, by burying food sources and places they roost.
▪ An attorney for the Coastal Conservation League wrote to oppose the proposed groins, citing studies about increased erosion down the beach from the groins and concern the erosion affects the character of other parts of Hunting Island. A man who identified himself as a former Hunting Island cabin owner said the groins were responsible in part for the park’s cabins lost to erosion on the island’s south end and that the structures are a hazard to visitors.