Not many people ever get the chance to literally draw a line in the sand, but Tom O'Rourke did.

The executive director of the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission said this week that the plan to save Folly Beach County Park is threatened by those meddling environmentalists.

The county wants to build a 745-foot groin that would shore up a park that has been closed for more than a year due to erosion.

If that's not done this spring, they fear the southern end of Folly will just wash away. The Coastal Conservation League and Sierra Club oppose the permit because of how a groin could affect sand flow south of the island.

This could be a problem.

“If (they) move beyond their comments and into a lawsuit challenging the permits, we will not be able to complete the project within this window,” O'Rourke said. “After that window passes, it is highly likely that Folly Beach County Park will be gone forever.”

In other words, if you can't go to the beach next year, blame the Coastal Conservation League.

Unnatural problem

Beach renourishment is a fairly complicated issue, at least in a political sense.

Environmentalists argue that pumping sand onto the beach is basically throwing money into the ocean — and that's true. But the beach is also the bread and butter of the state's economy. No beach, no tourists. So it also makes perfect sense to invest in healthy beaches.

And frankly, locals want to be able to go to the beach too — it's a big reason many folks move here.

The Coastal Conservation League concedes that the county made a marvelous public relations move in this debate.

“I am certain there will be people arguing against our position,” says Katie Zimmerman, project manager for the league. “I expected it.”

The league has consistently opposed groins because of how they affect sand flow. Zimmerman notes that Folly Beach is a perfect example of down-drift impact.

That's a big point here. The park is falling into the ocean because of the Charleston Harbor jetties, which divert sand that Folly should get to naturally renourish its beach.

That may be why so many folks support this groin, because what's happening to the park is not natural.

No silver bullet

The Coastal Conservation League folks want to sit down with the county and come up with a solution — but they don't know what that is.

There is no silver bullet on this one, Zimmerman says. And that's particularly tough, she says, because the league respects O'Rourke and the work that PRC does.

O'Rourke says he also does not want the groin to cause problems for Bird Key, and “that will not happen.” He says the county will mitigate damage, if there is any. That includes removing the groin later if need be.

He's been fielding calls all week from angry residents who tell him to not give up, and O'Rourke says he won't. There's a lot at stake here.

This is about residents in the tri-county area having a place to go to the beach with handicap access and bathrooms. There are only three county beach parks, and Kiawah has been ridiculously jammed up since Folly closed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which concedes that the jetties are a problem for Folly, renourishes Bird Key when it periodically dumps sand on Folly Beach County Park. That would likely continue — the county would insist.

That might be the best deal environmentalists can hope for in this case.

Because the county already has the public on its side.

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