Always tread carefully on erosion-control issue

Hilton Head Plantation officials made a prudent call in shifting the source of sand to be used to build up a stretch of shoreline between Dolphin Head and Pine Island.

It makes sense to bring in sand from an upland source rather than move 8,000 cubic yards of sand from a nearby inlet at Pine Island to the eroding section. Shorelines are such dynamic, interconnected systems that "robbing Peter" in one area to "pay Paul" in another seems a short-sighted solution to a long-term problem.

That's especially true when monitoring requirements add greatly to the costs.

"You're talking about $100,000 for monitoring of $25,000 worth of sand," said Peter Kristian, the community's general manager.

Resident David Schofield had asked the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to reconsider a permit issued for the project in August. Schofield says the last removal of sand from the Park Creek inlet in 2005 left a large mud hole. Removing more sand would leave the tip of Pine Island without sand, useless as a recreation area and with little opportunity to recover.

Schofield withdrew his objections with the community's request to change the permit.

We always must be cautious about the ripple effects of shoreline projects on the system as a whole. Hilton Head Plantation officials attribute the need for sand to protect the stretch of beach connecting Pine Island to Dolphin Head to rip-rap placed along a one-mile stretch of Port Royal Sound shoreline decades ago.

The revetment is exacerbating erosion in the area and impeding the flow of sand to other areas of the shoreline, they say.

Bringing new sand to the area is much better than building hard erosion-control structures. Such devices can destroy the public's dry sand beach.

That's why state officials were right to penalize some Daufuskie Island property owners for putting revetment material along an eroding beach there without permission.

A DHEC inspection in December 2009 found more than 100 exposed and buried sandbags and two concrete walls installed. Follow-up inspections in January 2010 and June 2011 found new rip-rap had been placed.

State law prohibits placing erosion-control devices seaward of established setback lines adopted in November 2009, except to protect a public highway.

Sandbags, too, are a potential problem. And other property owners, including some on Hunting Island, have been cited in the past for using them without permission.

"Like revetments and seawalls, the use of sandbags over a large area over a prolonged period of time will accelerate erosion and result in the total loss of the dry-sand beach," Dan Burger, communications director for DHEC's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, wrote in an email.

The property owners say state officials have "thumbed their noses" at the erosion problem they're fighting. But that's no excuse for thumbing their noses at the law and proven negative consequences of the remedies they employed.