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The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission is experienced at buying beachfront property that's eroding into the sea. That's happening now at the commission's Folly Beach County Park.
So when the commission last week said it was eyeing the purchase of quickly eroding Morris Island, some people naturally wondered why.
"It's going to be money thrown down the drain", said Raymond Grislow, whose father was once the keeper of the Morris Island lighthouse.
The park commission, however, doesn't see it that way at all. In fact, if the commission doesn't step in to buy the island, it may be developed in the future, commission Director Tim Eubanks said.
If the owners of the island are willing to sell at a price attractive enough to the commission, the commission should buy it, said Commissioner Larry Hook.
"I think it's a good investment", Hook said, adding that in a recent survey county residents urged the commission to buy and protect barrier islands.
Lowcountry Lands Inc. of Charleston owns about 108 acres of high land on Morris Island at the northernmost tip at Cummings Point. The rest of the island consists of a narrow beach and a 713-acre State Ports Authority dredge disposal site.
A spokesman for Yaschik Enterprises of Charleston, which has the same address as Lowcountry Lands, said the property is for sale. Yaschik has no development plans for the property, said the spokesman, who asked not to be named.
Neither the company nor the park commission has conducted an appraisal on the 108 acres at Cummings Point. The Charleston County assessor's office has placed the value of that land at $130,000, according to tax records, but its market value could be wildly different.
The commission has expressed interest in building a small visitor's center and picnic area on the island. The commission also could build a dock and operate a ferry service to the island, Eubanks said.
Of the entire 108 acres, just one area would appear large enough to support a small visitor's center - as long as food is not sold, said Steve Caulk, an environmental quality manager with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Caulk, who conducted a preliminary septic tank assessment of the island six months ago, said that no more than 360 gallons of septic waste a day could be generated on the island. ``It could have one house or a small visitor's center, and that would be the end of it,'' Caulk said.
The end of the island at Cummings Point is eroding at about 6 feet each year, said Bill Eiser, an oceanographer with the S.C. Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. A mile closer to the Morris Island lighthouse, the island is eroding about 19.5 feet a year, he said.
"Those are some of the highest erosional rates in the state of South Carolina".
Property maps show no high land on the end of the island across Lighthouse Inlet from Folly Beach. Most of the island is made up of the dredge disposal site, which is about two miles long and one-half mile wide, Eiser said.
Caulk said the island has been eroding at a rapid rate for at least the last five years.
The S.C. Department of Transportation has offered to kick in money to help the commission buy recommended property. That deal was in exchange for the commission allowing the Mark Clark Expressway to pass through the James Island County Park.
Morris Island is just one property the commission could ask the Transportation Department for help in obtaining, Eubanks said.
Added Hook: "At this moment, it's just a thought".
The commission also has expressed interest in buying the Morris Island lighthouse, now stranded at sea. But the sale is tied up by an ownership dispute between the owner and the state.