Hunting Island State Park needs help.
It needs sand to replenish the popular public beach that is eroding at the rate of 15 feet per year.
The beach that is a cash cow for South Carolina’s state parks system needs help from the state legislature. It needs the General Assembly to fully fund the $40 million allotted in next year’s budget by the House and governor for beach restoration. The senate cut that amount in half. It needs to be restored.
Economically, the beach nourishment project planned for Hunting Island makes perfect sense.
The park attracts about a million visits per year. The Atlantic Ocean shoreline is the primary driver of South Carolina’s top industry — tourism. Hunting Island State Park offers the state’s best publicly owned access to the beach. Every nickel spent on maintaining Hunting Island enhances the public’s access to the state’s crown jewel. That is not only a worthy goal, but an obligation of the state.
We join the Friends of Hunting Island organization in pushing the legislature to live up to its obligation to keep the park alive. The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce supports a petition urging full funding from the legislature.
We also realize that beach nourishment is not a perfect answer. Anytime sand is moved around, and certainly when hard structures are put in place, the dynamics change on the oceanfront and the areas where the sand was removed. But the state parks department is obligated to work within permits adhering to state and federal regulations and laws. These permits must be based on science, not politics.
Beach nourishment, however, is certainly the lesser of all the evils. It is a finger in the dike to allay a much more powerful force — the currents and waves of an ocean that relentlessly changes the landscape at the oceanfront.
Hunting Island is famous for its lighthouse. The initial lighthouse from antebellum days was moved a mile inland, but now today’s black-and-white edifice is again under threat of an eroding beach.
Hunting Island’s problem is chronic and for that reason a better plan is needed for the constant beach nourishment that will be required. A number of projects, totaling some $15 million, have been carried out in recent history. A number more will be needed in the future.
Going to the legislature with hat in hand every few years is not a sound way to meet the needs of Hunting Island State Park.
Yes, the legislature, as keepers of the purse strings, must constantly contribute to this economic and social star of South Carolina. Surely, it will fully fund Hunting Island’s proposal in the budget now being finalized.
But the Statehouse has as many swirling currents as the ocean, with many of its political and lobbying riptides working beneath the benign surface.
The S.C. Department of Parks Recreation and Tourism must come up with a larger plan to fund Hunting Island State Park beach preservation.
The Town of Hilton Head Island has provided a good blueprint with its 2 percent tax on overnight lodging. This “beach preservation fee,” which had to be fought for in court, keeps alive Beaufort County’s single greatest asset.
Hunting Island needs a similar, ongoing source of income specifically for beach preservation.
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