Folly Beach County Park to remain closed through 2012

The boardwalk that ran along the edge of Folly Beach County Park has been destroyed by an encroaching ocean.

FOLLY BEACH — Now and then, a visitor to this seaside city behaves so badly that they are not welcomed back.

And topping the list this year is a hurricane named "Irene."

Irene skimmed by offshore in late summer, and while she didn't come ashore, her wake ripped the heart out of the popular Folly Beach County Park, excavated sand from around pilings at the island's 1,000-foot fishing pier and washed out the surfers' favorite cove known as The Washout.

Officials have done their best to deal with Irene's impact. The pier and washout remain open and in use, but the county park at the island's south end had to be closed. There was hope the park could reopen in time for the spring surge in beachgoers.

But this week, Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission officials who manage the park concluded that — barring a miracle — the park will remain closed all of 2012.

The miracle that Folly needs is emergency funding by the federal government for a beach renourishment, PRC Director of Operations Phil Macchia said Friday.

But Macchia, Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin and other local officials say that in light of the standoff budgetary situation in Washington, D.C. — which includes the lack of a federal budget for the past two years — funding for beach renourishment is a no go right now.

PRC is still renting a cottage at the park for wedding, receptions and other gatherings, but damage done to other buildings, dunes, the parking area and beach walkovers leave the park a shadow of its old self.

PRC has been trucking in sand from upstate to try to stabilize park sections.

"We had to close for safety reasons," Macchia explained. "There is not as much park as before. At high tide there is hardly any beach left and water rolls into the parking lot. The parking area went from about 400 spaces to about 80," he said.

Macchia said Folly Park, which charges for parking and snacks, normally grosses $300,000 to $400,000 in revenue each year for PRC. "Revenue will take a hit," he predicted, adding that PRC hopes its other area parks will see an upswing in use in lieu of the Folly Park issues.

The Army Corps of Engineers has acknowledged that the Charleston jetties, which the corps built, contributes to erosion at Folly and has agreed to "periodic" beach renourishment. Folly was last renourished in 2005, but Irene has accelerated the need for a new effort, Goodwin said.

In September, Goodwin hosted staffers from First District U.S. Rep. Tim Scott's office, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint's office and state Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms. The mayor briefed his guests on the situation at the beach in general, and led a tour of the county park and other damaged beach areas.

All agreed that beach renourishment is needed, and even though Folly Beach and the county both say they are ready to put up their agreed upon financial "match" to get federal renourishment funding, the federal funding could be a year or more away, at best.

Goodwin said Friday that he's angling to get Scott and DeMint and other officials to come to the beach and personally access the damages.

"I want them to be able to say they have seen the problem for themselves," Goodwin said.