Residents, naturalist object to plans for new Hilton Head beach park

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Residents, naturalist object to plans for new Hilton Head beach park

Published Monday, August 13, 2012   |  570 Words  |  

Plans for a new beach park on Hilton Head Island are being opposed by some nearby residents and an island environmentalist, who argue the area is not suitable for building.

Town Council last week approved a revised plan for a mile-and-a-half-long linear park connecting Shelter Cove to the beach. Anew trail, boardwalks and crosswalks would connect a string of town-owned green space beside Shelter Cove Community Park with nearby recreation fields and Collier Beach.

The council made the park one of its top priorities for the year, and Mayor Drew Laughlin is urging the town to get started. It faces a December 2014 deadline to commit about $13 million to public-works projects. About $2.5 to $3 million of the money, captured from a tax-increment finance district, probably will be used for Chaplin Linear Park projects, town officials said.

The linear park, including other possible features shown to Council in May, likely will be developed in phases, town officials said.

But the shoreline where the beach park would be built is prone to erosion, according to a 2008 engineering report.

A groin at The Folly -- a creek that cuts across the beach between Singleton Beach Road and Burkes Beach Road -- has helped stabilize the shoreline south of there, but it won't provide long-term erosion protection unless the beach is renourished, the report says.

That makes it ill-suited for the beach park, according to naturalist Todd Ballantine of Ballantine Environmental Resources, who also says powerful inlet currents and rip tides make the beach unsafe for swimming and wading.

History suggests the site is vulnerable to storm damage, as well, Ballantine says. In 1979, Hurricane David swept by the island, destroying the Sunset Beach community at Collier Beach, Ballantine wrote in a July 14 letter asking the town not to build the park.

He also worries that building an 800-foot boardwalk, across the creek from a new parking lot off Burkes Beach Road to Collier Beach, will harm the island's last remaining, fragile ocean inlet.

Town manager Steve Riley argues the "low-impact park improvements" are not inconsistent with the findings from its engineers.

"Yes, this isn't a place where you'd want to build homes, but that doesn't mean it's a place where a beach park doesn't make sense," Riley said.

He said the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is not "wildly supportive, but OK" with plans for the boardwalk, as long as it avoids marsh grass.

"All of us would like to see The Folly as an eco-tourism destination," said Terry Herron, who lives off Singleton Beach Road. "But we don't think it's a buildable area and will double traffic through the neighborhood. ... We welcome people to the beach, but let's get them there safely and minimize impacts to The Folly inlet."

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