South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Groups challenge proposed groins on Georgetown Co. beach, efforts to engineer shoreline
Posted: April 10, 2019

A new appeal to state’s Administrative Law Court aims to protect pristine estuary and health of beach

For immediate release

GEORGETOWN, SC — On behalf of the Coastal Conservation League, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project has filed an appeal before the South Carolina Administrative Law Court, urging the court to overturn a permit granted by the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control to construct three groins on Debidue Beach in Georgetown County.

The groups contend that the authorization of a three-groin system on Debidue will exacerbate erosion on downdrift beaches and degrade one of the few pristine estuaries left in the United States. In its legal challenge, SCELP argues that the state-issued permit not only violates the South Carolina Coastal Zone Management Act and its regulations, but was issued in spite of DeBordieu Colony Community Association’s acknowledgement that the permitted project will, in fact, have downdrift impacts.

“Groins are designed to trap and hold sand in place,” SCELP Executive Director Amy Armstrong said. “But conservation of mass dictates that when sand is trapped and held by groins, it cannot be carried by longshore currents to downdrift beaches. In this way, groins deprive those downdrift beaches of much-needed sand.”

“We oppose efforts to harden our dynamic shoreline because of the devastating effects,” Conservation League Executive Director Laura Cantral said. “The groins on Debidue would jeopardize the health of a public beach, one of the last remaining pristine estuaries in the country, and homes and people downdrift for the benefit of a few. We urge the court to reverse this decision and stay the course on expert recommendations that discourage new groins on our coast.”

On Jan. 24, 2019, DHEC authorized the construction of three sheet-pile groins on Debidue Beach and additional beach renourishment. SCELP and the Conservation League requested the state agency’s Board of Directors review the staff’s decision; that request was ultimately denied in March. The project includes the construction of three groins, each measuring 300-400 feet and extending into the ocean.

SCELP and the Conservation League argue that the hard structures will adversely impact locations south of the property, including Hobcaw Barony. The 16,000-acre tract, on a peninsula between the Winyah Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, is home to the North Inlet-Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, a nationally significant public trust asset. The Baruch Foundation, which owns Hobcaw Barony and the site of the reserve, has also filed an appeal of the groin permit.

Groins are long, hard structures that extend into the ocean and are designed to trap and hold sand on eroding beaches, robbing downdrift beaches of that sand supply. This process can trigger a domino effect: When one groin is installed, another is later needed at the beach downdrift, and eventually another at the next beach downdrift, and so on. In the face of rising seas, worsening storms and extreme weather, constructing groins fails to deliver a long-term or sustainable solution for beach preservation.

The detrimental impacts of groins and other hard structures on adjacent and downdrift beach properties are well documented. In 2013, after studying the effects of groins and shoreline armoring on the state’s beachfront, a DHEC Blue Ribbon Committee comprised of scientists, developers and elected officials recommended that no new groins be permitted. South Carolina law recognizes that groins interfere with natural sand transport and require special documentation that a project will not result in negative downdrift impacts before the issuance of any permit.

In 2011, Debordieu Colony Community Association received a nearly identical permit to construct three groins and conduct renourishment at Debidue Beach. The Coastal Conservation League, represented by SCELP, challenged the permit. The case was ultimately settled; property owners abandoned plans to build the groins and moved forward to renourish the beach.

Background on the case and a copy of the Request for Contested Case Hearing can be found here.

For more info: Amy Armstrong, Esquire, Executive Director South Carolina Environmental Law Project [email protected] or (843) 527-0078

Caitie Forde-Smith, Communications Director Coastal Conservation League [email protected] or (252) 714-4790

Erin Hardwick Pate, North Coast Office Director Coastal Conservation League [email protected] or (803) 413-5008

 
The image shows a groin on Hunting Island State Park. Notice how the groin effects the amount of sand on the up-drift and down-drift sides of it. Rob Young, the director of Western Carolina University's Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, evaluated the downdrift impacts of the proposed Debidue groins, and determined: “Groins are costly and of dubious value. Protecting a small number of properties … not worth the risk to downdrift private property.”