Common sense needed to save Folly

Tracks from heavy equipment mixed with beach umbrellas in July amid last year's $30 million rebuilding of Folly Beach.

You can't blame folks on Folly Beach for getting nervous when someone starts monkeying around with the shipping channel.

After all, they haven't recovered from the first time that happened - and that was more than 100 years ago.

So Folly Mayor Tim Goodwin recently told the Army Corps of Engineers he may sue if the beach isn't taken into consideration during the upcoming $500 million channel dredging.

See, the Corps and the State Ports Authority need to make the harbor channel deeper to handle larger ships. The Corps also wants to extend the channel three miles farther out to sea. And no one knows what effect that might have on Folly Beach.

But the island already suffers extraordinary erosion problems as a result of the harbor jetties, so Goodwin doesn't expect anything good to come of this.

The feds, and the state, need to make sure this little problem gets fixed and doesn't escalate. Nothing good can come from one of the state's top two economic generators going to court with the other one.

Besides, it doesn't have to be this way. Things actually could work out pretty well here if bureaucracy will just get out of the way.

Now, everyone knows beaches are going to erode - and then accrete.

It's nature, and you can argue all day about the wisdom of spending millions to subvert that. Until, of course, you factor in the economic impact of tourism on this state, and then it makes a lot of sense.

But what's happening on Folly is not natural. The jetties, built in the late 19th century, subvert the natural flow of sand. It's why the Morris Island lighthouse no longer has much of a Morris Island to stand on, and it's why a lot of Folly Beach washes away every few years.

The feds have conceded as much, and agreed to pay 85 percent of beach renourishment costs.

Getting that money is, well, easier said than done. It is a lot of money. Last year we spent $30 million rebuilding Folly's beach.

Nicole Elko, a coastal geologist who is consulting for Folly Beach, says no one knows exactly what will happen if the Corps of Engineers digs a ditch in the ocean several miles offshore. But what Folly wants is an agreement up front that, if it does make things worse, they know who takes responsibility.

The feds obviously should, but so should the state. The Ports Authority on Monday donated money to protect the Cooper River corridor from the project, which is laudable. They should be just as worried about our beaches.

This is not a unique problem. Harbor towns all around the country have this dilemma, Elko says.

But a lot of them are handling it better, and it's time we learned from them.

Elko says that Florida and North Carolina - and California, New York and New Jersey - work pretty well at sand management.

Yeah, sand is so important it needs managing.

Basically what they do, in places like Cape Canaveral, is take the sand they dredge from the shipping channel and dump it on the beaches downstream that are more likely to suffer adversely from changes in currents.

That's pretty smart. See, the way it has been done around here is this: dredge the channel, dump the sand at sea. The next year, after the beach erodes, go offshore and dig up sand to rebuild the beach. Repeat.

Handling both at the same time, Elko says, saves millions of dollars and makes a ton of sense.

So why doesn't that happen here? Well, it's bureaucracy. See, channel dredging is considered a navigation project by the feds, and beach renourishment is considered a storm reclamation project.

Two different kinds of work, two different pots of money.

That's the kind of thinking that got a 55-foot bridge on schedule for the Wando River, with absolutely no commercial enterprise north of the bridge.

It's all red tape; it's following procedures instead of using common sense.

The Army Corps knows this, but they don't set policy - they just follow it. What needs to happen is for someone - say, a certain Lowcountry senator or congressman - to take up the cause of common sense in the federal government.

Maybe they can convince the bureaucrats to get their heads out of the sand.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com