State screams, but residents shrug over bad beach report

COLUMBIA --- The state says a flawed report that smeared South Carolina beaches has harmed the state's reputation and its tourism industry.

Area industry professionals say it's hard to gauge what the fallout has been and will be.

If you ask boaters, tour guides or hospitality workers whether they're worried about losing business, chances are they will shrug -- if they have even heard of the report.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington-based special-interest group, released an annual report on beach pollution this week, ranking South Carolina beaches as the most contaminated in the Southeast.

On Thursday, the group said its findings were based on faulty data from the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency is looking into the matter.

In response to the admission, a top official for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control told the group to make a series of corrections in order to fix "the damage that has been done to our state's reputation, to our tourism industry, to the staff who work on this project and with our agency."

Ann-Marie Adams-Arrington, the executive director of the Hilton Head Area Hospitality Association, said it's hard to gauge whether the state's beaches will suffer a drop in tourists.

"Consistent messages one way or another can certainly sway them in one particular direction or another," she said. "In this case, I don't know that this has been a consistent message."

Some business owners appear unruffled.

"I'm not worried at all," said Mark Maurer, the owner of Adventure Cruises on Hilton Head. "If I haven't heard of the report, there are lots of other people who haven't heard of the report."