Originally created 10/17/01

Aiken-area man seeks to preserve beach



BLUFFTON, S.C. - The state calls it a "critical area," a saltwater flat teeming with crabs, snails and marsh grass.

Nearby residents, however, call it All Joy Beach. And they say it's disappearing.

The beach was created in the late 1920s, long before today's strict environmental laws were passed. Sand was brought in, spread around, and "beachfront" lots were sold for $50 apiece along the May River. Developer Thomas Lawton Sr. called the resulting community Brighton Beach, after his plantation in Garnet.

The beach was once 110 yards long. Today, it's less than half that.

Marsh grass, that staple of the estuaries, began its inexorable march to claim the beach several years ago when Beaufort County maintenance personnel stopped grading it. The beach's maintenance was stopped when the state Office of Coastal Resource Management adopted rules that protected saltwater marshes as areas critical to the coast's wildlife.

Ron Paul wants his beach back.

Mr. Paul's Aiken-area family has spent countless summers at their cottage near the beach, fishing in the river and swimming. He's watched the sand slowly disappear under the marsh grass.

The grass, he said, "is propagating pretty freely. The beach has been there since the 1920s and it's always been a pretty little beach. It's a shame, really. It's getting smaller and smaller."

Mr. Paul first went to the state's Department of Natural Resources to ask what could be done. Officials there told him to see the state's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, where officials told him exactly what he did not want to hear: "The marsh grass is protected."

OCRM spokesman Mike Robertson said Monday that the beach is classified, like the remainder of the state's saltwater riverfronts, as a "critical area," which is defined as areas subject to inundation by saltwater. That means the marsh grass can't be touched without a special permit from the OCRM. And nobody's applied for such a permit for All Joy, he said.

Mr. Paul says that's not the answer he was given. He said OCRM officials told him there was simply nothing they can do, that the grass is protected. So he went over their heads. On Sept. 12, he wrote to U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., asking for his help.

"Could you please, in some way, help with this?" Mr. Paul wrote. "The beach was never a problem maintaining until the now-defunct Coastal Council (a division of the OCRM) was formed. They made the marsh grass protection rules, which I fully support, but I think this small beach area should fall under some type of 'grandfather' clause which would allow preservation for future generations to enjoy."

Mr. Thurmond, in a letter to Mr. Paul dated Oct. 4, promised he would look into it.

Mr. Thurmond's spokeswoman Genevieve Erny said the senator had written to the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the DNR and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, first to determine who has jurisdiction, then to see what applicable marshland preservation rules allow.

"As far as taking a position, (Mr. Thurmond) is not saying he's for or against this," Ms. Erny said. "It's all going to depend on what regulations are in place."