Timber groins part of Folly, locals say

Charlie Agee (left) and Norty Glover, both of James Island walk down Folly Beach Wednesday morning. They said the deteriorating timber groins are rustic.

FOLLY BEACH — They are gnarled, could be considered ugly and maybe even a bit dangerous but the battered timber-pile groins that dot the island have an appeal all their own and should be left alone, some islanders say.

The new city beach management plan says the erosion control structures have outlived their usefulness, pose a safety hazard and may interfere with turtle nesting and hatchlings.

“In their current dilapidated state, these structures have become relatively ineffective at their original intent, which was to trap sand and stabilize the beach,” the plan says.

Visitors to the northeast end of the island on Friday looked at the jagged wood pilings there as part of Folly’s attraction.

“I see it as art. I think they should leave these alone,” said Allyn Cullen of James Island.

Islander Gary Stevens had a similar view.

“It’s just part of the beach in my opinion. They could put up new ones and have the same problem in 10 years,” he said.

Stevens said children should not play on the pilings because of the potential for being stuck with wood splinters.

Island homeowner Tammy Ehl thought the old timbers lent flavor to the shore. “It gives the beach character,” she said.

The state Department of Transportation installed 48 timber and rock groins in the 1940s and ’50s because erosion had claimed some beachfront homes and roads.

The Army Corps of Engineers repaired nine groins as part of a $30 million beach renourishment project. The city is evaluating 39 groins to determine which are most in need of repair, officials said.

“We will go out for bid to determine the exact cost of rehabilitating a groin, but we only estimate that we will be able to rehab one every other year at best,” said Spencer Wetmore, assistant to Mayor Tim Goodwin.

Folly drained its beach preservation fund of $5 million to provide the local match for the beach renourishment project. That leaves the island with little to address issues such as groin repair, Goodwin said.

“We don’t have funding right now but we’re searching for it,” he said.

What happens with beach management at Folly matters locally and regionally. The island has only 2,600 full-time residents but it is the closest and most publicly accessible beach for the city of Charleston and the tri-county area, according to the city’s new beach plan.

Nearly 1 million non-residents visited Folly at least once while in the Charleston area last year. The total economic impact of visitor spending attributable to Folly was about $108 million in sales, which generated 1,100 jobs and nearly $39 million in income, the city says.

“If we don’t have the beach,” Goodwin said, “we don’t have anything else.“

The city has been told that rehabbing a groin would cost up to $75,000, which makes it impractical to tackle the problem all at once, Goodwin said.

The new beach plan was published Jan. 20. The city paid a consultant $10,000 to assist with preparation of the document.

The island’s long-standing erosion problem dates back more than a century to when the three-mile-long Charleston Harbor jetties were built in the late 1800s. Since then, Morris and Folly islands have suffered severe beach loss because sand that once flowed to them has been blocked. It either accumulates on the north side of the jetties or is dredged from the harbor entrance channel and disposed offshore. As Folly loses beach to erosion, little new sand is coming its way, the beach plan says.

Because of the situation, a 50-year agreement was reached in 1992 under which the federal government pays 85 percent of the cost of periodic renourishment that happens about every seven years depending on the beach condition.

The city’s new erosion plan emphasizes holding on to renourished beach. Currently, a contractor is building miles of fences that trap blowing beach sand and help build dunes. It is the final phase of the Army Corps renourishment project that pumped 1.5 million cubic yards of sand from offshore onto the beach.

“Folly must be prepared to manage the sand placed by renourishment in a way that preserves the beach for shore protection, recreation and natural habitats,” the beach plan says.

The city is already at work to obtain permits for the next renourishment project. Exactly when that will happen depends on how the latest effort holds up.

In the meantime, Folly is rebuilding its beach preservation fund with a new revenue source. The additional 1 percent accommodations tax voters approved in December is expected to generate $320,000 annually for a range of beach maintenance efforts including public access, dune preservation and renourishment, Goodwin said.