FOLLY BEACH — A federal program designed to conserve coastal land may add thousands of new acres around this beach community, including Long Island — a private island that was listed for sale in recent years.
The proposals to expand the Coastal Barrier Resources System also covers some areas in Beaufort County, including around fast-eroding Harbor Island.
Unlike the private conservation deals that environmentalists have frequently pursued in the Lowcountry, the CBRS doesn't specifically ban building. The program, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, however, prohibits federal dollars from supporting construction of any type in its protected zones.
That means money can't be used to suck up sand from protected waters for rebuilding beaches through renourishment, and new flood insurance policies can't be issued on protected lands (though existing policies are not canceled).
Congress would have to approve the addition that FWS has suggested. The proposed additions come as the agency is following a Congressional mandate to update its maps, a FWS spokeswoman said.
"If you're not way down in the details you have no reason to know about (these) zones, but if you're someone whose house is about to be sucked into one, it’s incredibly important," said Aaron Pope, city administrator of Folly Beach.
The areas targeted for expansion, however, don't include inhabited buildings.
Around Folly, the proposed changes would add slightly more than 2,600 acres of marsh and uninhabited high ground islands to already protected areas around Morris Island. The zone is roughly between Folly Island, Folly Road and Long Island River.
It does not include Oak Island and Little Oak Island, which already have several homes.
Included is Long Island, which was put on the market for $15 million in 2019 with the owners saying they wanted a buyer who would conserve the land. The island never sold, according to Charleston County property records.
Also included is the much smaller Palm Island. The owners of that parcel, which is under half an acre according to property records, have applied for a permit to build a home, which is still pending, Pope said.
The city of Folly Beach doesn't have concerns about the new inclusions, with the exception of some waters in Lighthouse Inlet, said Nicole Elko, a consultant for the city.
The barrier island community is continually looking for sand for its renourishment projects and is "looking into the ramifications" of these waters being protected, she said in an email.
Folly has gotten special permission in the past, however, to dredge for beach sand in already-protected areas of the Folly River, Elko said.
In Beaufort County, the additions to the CBRS would include a stretch of the Harbor River and marsh between St. Helena Island and Pritchard's Island, the only section of the river that has not yet been included in the program.
It would also add the marsh and waters around fast-eroding Harbor Island, where a handful of beach houses already are underwashed by high tides. The protected zone stops just before the houses, however.
Eric Greenway, interim administrator for Beaufort County, said the additions would have a "negligible impact" and that it's unlikely a federally-funded renourishment project would happen on Harbor Island.
Don Woelke, general manager of the island's Owners' Association, confirmed that there's no renourishment on the horizon for the sandy areas captured in the proposed zone.