ISLE OF PALMS - Washed-away sandbags are starting to litter the beach at Dewees Island, as well as the inlet between the island and Wild Dunes. Residents say it's a menace for nesting sea turtles and a hazard for boaters.

Two resident environmental groups have written the city of Isle of Palms to call for better cleanup of collapsed bags along about a half-mile of beachfront properties that are now protected by the bags as the beach erodes. The city has told its sandbag cleanup contractor to increase efforts, City Administrator Linda Tucker assured the groups.

The letter came two months after a clam farmer filed a first complaint with state regulators about bags floating in Dewees Inlet. Alarmed residents said they don't want a repeat of the 2007 "sandbag debacle" in which hundreds of smaller bags washed out and littered the coast for miles.

"It's just a rewind of the problem we had," said Dewees resident Gary McGraw, who runs the island's turtle-watch group monitoring the beach for nesting sea turtles, which are an endangered species. The turtles can get entangled in the bags. The bags also can snarl boat propellers, throwing passengers out of the boat, he said.

So far, five sandbags have been found, he said. "One sandbag is one too many. They need to fix it so there is zero percent pollution, or the state should give them some trouble."

The watch group, along with the island environmental program, wrote the letter.

The cleanup company has been under contract to do two sweeps per day. Tucker said she is on the beach almost daily and regularly sees the contractor at work at low tide.

No fines have been levied to date, said S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman Jim Beasley. Department staff routinely check on the permit sites for compliance, he said.

But bags turning up in the surf and channels are an unpleasant reminder of the 2007 incidents that led to state fines.

DHEC staff inspected Dewees Inlet in April after a clam farmer complained about bags washing into the beds. No violations were cited.

The Dewees Inlet end of Wild Dunes is a volatile stretch of beach for erosion and shoal attachment. In 2008 the beach was renourished, but has eroded continually since then. Officials now are waiting for a shoal, or sandbar, just off the beach to move in with the currents, so sand can be scraped from the shoal to renourish the stretch again. That's expected to happen in November.

In the meantime, the larger sandbags have been placed in front of the 18th hole of the resort's Links course, as well as the Ocean Club and Seascape Villas condominiums alongside, and now Beachwood East homes farther down the beach. In 2007, the same row of homes, condominiums and golf course hole staved off the seas by piling tens of thousands of small sandbags that then washed away in storms and littered the nearby coast. The larger bags are supposed to be more stable.

The golf course was cited in December for not removing the bags or reapplying in time to meet a mandated deadline. Permits, issued for emergencies, are given only for a set number of days.

Resort officials worked with DHEC to resolve the missed deadline and the course is now considered under compliance, Beasley said. No fines were issued. Permits have now been extended through Aug. 31.

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