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Shifting sands: SC lawmakers urge dedicated beach nourishment fund

Beach nourishment projects are some of the most common Army Corps of Engineers work on the Atlantic Coast. Here, a pipe spits a slurry of sand and water back onto eroding Folly Beach on Tuesday, July 31, 2018.

Posted on February 20, 2023

As rising seas and stronger hurricanes pose a mounting threat to South Carolina’s treasured beaches, legislators and coastal leaders want a permanent fund to fight back.

A bipartisan bill working its way through the state Senate and introduced in the House would assign 25 percent of the money collected by the state’s entertainment admissions tax to a trust fund for beach nourishment.

The admission tax is a 5 percent charge on movie and concert tickets that currently flows to the state’s general fund. The beach nourishment fund, if approved, would receive a $10.4 million dollar slice of that money in the 2024 fiscal year, the state’s budget forecasters estimated.

“This is not just about economic well-being,” Isle of Palms Republican Sen. Chip Campsen, the bill’s champion in the upper chamber, said at a press conference Feb. 15.

“Primarily, we’re stewards of a way of life and a natural resource that has demonstrated itself as being invaluable,” he added.

State Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, is championing a bill that would set up a state fund to support local beach nourishment projects.

Over time and especially after hurricanes, beaches erode, creeping closer to developed areas. Beach nourishment is done primarily by piping in thousands of tons of sand from the sea floor onto the beach where it’s spread and shaped by bulldozers.

The costs of recent South Carolina nourishment projects run into financial numbers covering seven and often eight digits, though the federal government frequently funds the majority of nourishment projects. If the bill were passed, the trust fund would match funds with local governments to pay for the non-federally financed portion of projects.

Proponents repeatedly touted the key role beaches play in South Carolina’s $23.8 billion tourism industry and the thriving coastal communities which it supports.

“You got a goose that lays golden eggs,” Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin said at the press conference. “You have to feed it, and sand is the feed for the goose that lays the eggs.”

South Carolina beaches receive more day visits each year than all the country’s national parks combined, Campsen said.

Other supporters said the problem is becoming more pressing with increasing number of tourists coming to South Carolina and others relocating permanently, many drawn to the beaches.

“Make no mistake, the beaches, they’re under assault with the migrating populations coming to South Carolina,” said Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton. “We see the minivans rolling in daily.”

Patrick Barrineau, a coastal engineer at Coastal Science & Engineering, a Columbia-based beach restoration company, told a Feb. 15 Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee meeting the South Carolina beaches his company nourished and built continuous barrier dunes upon before Hurricane Ian weathered the storm much better than beaches that had not been nourished.

“It was a direct hit and they performed quite well,” Barrineau said. The waves “were powerful enough to destroy piers, but not to overtop the dune in some places, and that’s because the projects were in place serving their role as a buffer.”

Barrineau testified that research shows the advantages of active beach management and that a permanent trust fund would enable such an approach.

“We don’t have to wait until these beaches are in a critically eroded condition and then go fix the problem and remove houses and sceptic tanks from the surf,” Barrineau said.

Pawleys Island’s beaches have repeatedly suffered from coastal erosion and required multiple nourishment projects. An expert testified at a Senate committee meeting Feb. 15 that recent projects on Pawleys Island demonstrate the advantages of proactive nourishment.

The Fish, Game and Forestry Committee unanimously sent the bill to the full Senate Feb. 15.

A similar bill made it out of the Senate committee last session but gathered dust when it reached the Senate floor.

Powerful Senate Finance Committee Chairman Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, has in the past expressed reservations about funding beach nourishment, which must be done over and over again as the sand washes away, though he has signaled some openness to Campsen’s bill.

“It more than pays for itself,” Campsen said at the hearing. “This is a good investment.”


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