South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Beaches: Two agencies object to DeBordieu groin plan
January 18th, 2018

By Charles Swenson, Coastal Observer

Two environmental agencies have raised objections to a plan to install three groins on the beach at DeBordieu as part of a community-funded renourishment project. The state Department of Natural Resources and the National Marine Fisheries Service recommend that permitting agencies remove the groins from a permit request by the DeBordieu Colony Community Association.

DeBordieu wants to install the groins as part of a project that will put up to 650,000 cubic yards of offshore sand on its beach. In March, property owners voted to create a “Beach Preservation Fund.” An assessment over 17 years will raise just over $1.9 million annually.

A permit for three groins was approved in 2011 as part of another beach renourishment project, but was challenged by environmental groups and the Baruch Foundation, which owns the property south of DeBordieu. Rather than defend the permit, the community dropped the groins from its plan and moved forward with the project that put 795,000 cubic yards of offshore sand onto the beach in 2015.

It isn’t economically feasible to continue renourishment projects without groins to hold sand in the area of peak erosion in front of a seawall at the south end of DeBordieu, according to the application. A study of the downdrift impacts prepared by Coastal Science and Engineering as part of the application acknowledges there will be erosion if the groins are installed, but says the erosion rate will be less than if there is no renourishment.

The Coastal Conservation League also filed an objection to the groins with the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, which must approve the plan. It cites the state law that allows groins in area of high erosion only if “thorough analysis demonstrates that the groin will not cause a detrimental effect on adjacent or downdrift area.” “The applicant has not demonstrated that there will be no detrimental effect,” according to a letter filed on the league’s behalf by Amy Armstrong, director of the S.C. Environmental Law Project.

The letter also cites EPA data showing that the rate of sea level rise along the South Carolina coast makes it unlikely that the renourishment and groin project will be sustainable. “Sea level rise is placing existing structures at immediate risk that cannot be remedied by groins,” the league argues.

And, it notes that the impact of the groins will be felt at the North Inlet-Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, based at Hobcaw Barony, which is “one of the few pristine estuaries left in the United States.”

The Baruch Foundation, which owns Hobcaw, did not file a comment. The S.C. Wildlife Federation raised concerns and encouraged the permitting agencies to “more rigorously assess alternatives that do not involve shoreline armoring.”

The federation is represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which also noted “we are concerned this project will fail to address the land owners’ desire to decrease the frequency of beach renourishment.”

Natural Resources and the Fisheries Service both cite the impact on wildlife if the groins impact the beach at Hobcaw and the shoals around North Inlet. Erosion will disrupt nesting sea turtles and shorebirds, the state agency says.

The federal agency says changes at North Inlet will disrupt the “eggs, larvae and juveniles” of managed fish species.

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