ISLE OF PALMS — The gated Wild Dunes community might evolve into public beach access.
The state would consider the resort community's beach to have complete access under a bill prefiled by Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, for the January 2008 session. Rep. Ben Hagood, R-Sullivan's Island, plans to file a parallel bill in the House by January.
The community is private; the beach is public but no open access is provided inside the gates. What should be allowed on public beach to protect private property is an ongoing dispute in coastal management.
The bill would rework the state's beachfront management act to designate all the beach public in municipalities that have more than half of the beach outside of communities that restrict access. The municipalities also must offer twice as much access as the state requires. That would include Wild Dunes but exclude largely private islands such as Kiawah.
It would clear one of the first hurdles Isle of Palms has to winning federal money for a $9 million or more beach renourishment plan to save six condominium complexes and other properties from storm tides washing under the buildings. Army Corps of Engineers rules require a consensus among local governments about public need.
A bigger hurdle is the $9 million itself. Even if federal money could be won in time, it would pay for only two-thirds. Campsen and Hagood also will push bills to allow future accommodations tax revenue to pay for bonds for renourishment and let the worst-off beaches keep all their accommodations tax revenue to do it.
The city has more than 50 public walkways and accesses, Isle of Palms Mayor Mike Sottile said. Access at least every half-mile is another Corps requirement.
"I feel Isle of Palms has more than enough beach access and public parking than we need to meet the letter of the law. We're a seven-mile beach and we have enough parking for a 20-mile beach," he said.
The legislators plan to fast-track the bills to help Isle of Palms meet a June deadline for completing the work that OCRM wants.
Legislative approval isn't a given, Hagood said. "There certainly will be some issues to discuss."