The Island Connection: A Common Voice

Every beach along the South Carolina coast is unique, but each of them is blessed with the same natural beauty and in many ways burdened by similar natural and man-made issues.

This symbiotic relationship was a major reason South Carolina Beach Advocates (SCBA) was formed in 2014, and the mission of the organization has remained steadfast in the past seven years.

“We all deal with similar situations and problems,” said Linda Lovvorn Tucker, former Isle of Palms city administrator and now an ex-officio member of the SCBA board of directors. “The beaches need a common voice. We need to get together and collaborate and have one unified voice to the state Legislature.”

“South Carolina Beach Advocates allows the mayors to come together and agree on certain topics for which they can advocate,” SCBA Executive Director Nicole Elko added.

At the organization’s most recent annual meeting, held at Wild Dunes Feb. 8 and Feb. 9, representatives from coastal communities, counties and homeowners’ associations from North Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head heard from a wide range of professionals concerning an assortment of issues that affect the beaches and inlets along the coast. Subject matter at the two-day meeting ranged from federal, state and local beach management to erosion control, flooding and updates on various beach-related projects.

Presentations also were made by Gov. Henry McMaster; U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace; Christy Hall, secretary of the South Carolina Department of Transportation; State Sens. Stephen Goldfinch and Chip Campsen; and State Reps. Lee Hewitt, Joe Bustos and Spencer Wetmore.

Elko noted the importance of developing a relationship with the governor’s office and legislators. She said the organization is hoping the state will eventually provide dedicated funding for beach preservation, an issue contained in a bill filed by Campsen.

“The state does fund beach activities, but we don’t put away $5 million to $8 million a year like we are recommending,” Elko said. “We’re hoping we can set aside a portion of the admission tax, kind of a user fee for tourists to help us pay to maintain the beaches.”

Tucker echoed the significance of communicating with state leaders.

“Just knowing that our voices are being heard and getting feedback is certainly important,” she said.

In addition to state funding, Elko said the session on alternative erosion control devices, “alternatives to what has traditionally been available,” was especially noteworthy to SCBA’s members and industry partners.

Besides nurturing relationships with state lawmakers, the governor and state agencies, Tucker, who has been to every SCBA annual meeting since the first one in 2015, cited “being good stewards of the beach” and emerging

technologies and practices to accomplish that goal as vital issues discussed at the meeting.

Mayors Pat O’Neil of Sullivan’s Island and Jimmy Carroll of Isle of Palms, both members of the organization’s board of directors, agreed that South Carolina Beach Advocates and its annual meeting serve an important purpose for the Palmetto State’s beach communities, which are attracting an ever-increasing number of visitors.

“The group was originally formed to advocate for help in renourishing beaches, but we have expanded over the last two or three years,” O’Neil said.

“We’ve also expanded to include off-shore drilling and testing and all of our other challenges. It’s not limited to beaches. It’s creeks, marshes and shorelines as well.”

“We’re there to protect our coast. Every coastal community has the same challenges,” Carroll remarked. “Before the pandemic, tourism was a $24 billion industry, two thirds of that from the coast.”

“The formation of this organization has been quite an accomplishment,” Elko concluded. “We’ve increased awareness that South Carolina’s beaches are a statewide treasure that requires investment.”

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