Hunting Island supporters push for money to restore beaches

Hunting Island supporters are rallying to ensure millions of dollars to restore the island’s beaches remain in the state budget.

Earlier this month, South Carolina senators allotted just $20 million for the state’s beach renourishment projects for the fiscal year that begins July 1. That’s half of the $40 million that Gov. Nikki Haley and the S.C. House of Representatives proposed spending.

The money would benefit a list of state beaches including Hunting Island, home to one of the state’s most popular parks that is grappling with aggressive erosion that takes away about 5 to 30 feet of beach per year.

The funds are needed to help restore public areas on the island’s north and south beaches, shore up the campground area and protect Hunting Island’s historic lighthouse, said Friends of Hunting Island president Denise Parsick. The storm and high tides this past October eroded as much of the barrier island’s beaches as normally occurs in a year, she said.

“If we don’t renourish our beaches, people will go to other beaches,” Parsick said. “It’s only a hop, skip and a jump to North Carolina, Florida and Georgia.”

Parsick is enlisting the 900 members of Friends of Hunting Island to write legislators asking for the $40 million. And the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce has started an online petition.

The S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department wants to pump more than 600,000 cubic yards of sand onto Hunting Island’s beaches and add two groins to the six installed in 2008. The project would be done at the same time as a similar project on nearby Edisto Island.

A public hearing on the permit request will be held at Beaufort City Hall at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said coastal lawmakers will lobby members of a joint committee of House and Senate members who will write the final version of the budget. The committee’s work must be completed before July 1 when the state’s new fiscal year begins.

The case for beach renourishment can be made objectively by showing how important beaches are to state revenue, Davis said.

“Beach renourishment obviously plays a large part of that,” Davis said Friday. “You can make the case in terms of dollars and cents.”

Since 1969, eight major renourishment projects have been conducted to maintain Hunting Island’s beaches, totaling about $15 million.

The park’s most recent renourishment project was installing six groins in 2008. More groins were approved at the time, but the money wasn’t available, Parks, Recreation and Tourism director Duane Parrish said Friday.

Renourishment was due and being planned for the park before the October storm accelerated the urgency, Parrish said.

Research shows the groins are working, he said, pointing to his visit to the park in April.

“You can walk out there and tell,” Parrish said. “There is a lot more sand out there where the groins are than where the groins were not.”

Parsick would like to see a recurring fee to help pay for future projects so that the beaches aren’t so dependent on the state budget. She thinks an extra dollar per car visiting the park would work.

Hunting Island’s 1.08 million visitors this past fiscal year ranked second only to Myrtle Beach State Park, which drew almost 1.5 million, state parks spokeswoman Dawn Dawson-House said. The next most visited park was Huntington Beach in Murrells Inlet, which drew half as many visitors as Hunting Island.

“We’re not talking about a beach just serving locals,” said Robb Wells, tourism director for the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We’re talking about a beach that serves the state. ... That is our battle cry.”

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