By Gregg Bragg, The Island Eye News Staff Writer
Dr. Nicole Elko did her undergraduate work at Penn State, and earned both a Masters and a PhD in coastal geology from the University of South Florida. She felt there was a void she could fill in shaping SC’s beach management policy, so she established the South Carolina Beach Advocates (SCBA) in 2015. The nascent organization has been gaining traction since then. It reached its full bloom during the annual meeting held at the Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms, Feb. 11 and 12.
SCBA’s mission is to educate the public, regulatory authorities, and elected officials on the environmental, economic, and societal impact of South Carolina’s beaches and inlets.
“This is the state’s only organization formed by elected officials to represent the state’s beach communities. The organization’s mission is to educate decision makers and the public as to the economic, environmental, and civic benefits of South Carolina Beaches,” Elko said.
Elko began her career in Florida. She worked with and sculpted her organization after the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association.
“All the communities would come together with one voice. They would approach regulators when necessary and legislators when necessary. The one beach gal/guy in a [municipality] is usually doing that work in a vacuum, and it’s great to come together and share ideas with people from different communities, who are struggling with the same challenges.
“Beachfront management issues; managing the sand you have, maintaining your dunes, is one of our big pushes. And a dedicated state funding source is something our organization is very passionate about advocating for in Columbia. In other words, don’t just give us money to build our beaches back after a hurricane. Let’s have something annually committed and have the state acknowledge that this is an important resource and economic driver for the state,” said Elko.
Isle of Palms Mayor Jimmy Carroll couldn’t agree more. “Tourism generates $22 billion for the state, and two thirds of that comes from our coast. This gives all coastal communities a stake in our responses to erosion, sea level rise, drainage, plastics, traffic and the impact from day visitors. It’s a great group! We don’t have to reinvent the wheel and can leverage solutions that others have used,” Carroll said.
Mayor Carroll is one of many elected officials who attended the mid-February conference. City of Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin also participated and rounded out a group representing no less than 10 member organizations/ municipalities including; Isle of Palms, Kiawah Island, Folly Beach, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach, Pawleys Island, DeBordieu Colony, Georgetown County, and Edisto Beach, all of which have projects underway and information to share.
“This year’s meeting included keynote speeches by dignitaries from the Governor’s office, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the South Carolina Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM). But perhaps more importantly, the meeting includes time for each South Carolina beach community’s leaders to speak about the beach preservation efforts they undertook this year. We’ve had a lot going on the last couple of years,” Elko stated.
The South Carolina Beach Advocates is an incredibly efficient group. Elko is the only staff member, but she lavishes praise on her board of directors. She says they are invaluable in setting up meetings, getting the word out about SCBA news and events, and facilitating membership.
Elko’s organization gets the bulk of it’s funding from individual memberships (visit SCBeaches.org/join for details). However, the SCBA does get some funding from the state of SC and the federal government, as well.
“The Army Corps of Engineers considers beaches a component of infrastructure they refer to as ‘Coastal Storm Reduction Projects.’ Of course, they [the beaches] have recreational benefits. Sure, they have tourist benefits, and critical habitat/ ecological benefits. But the preservation of private property and public infrastructure is how they justify beach preservation,” said Elko.
Dr. Elko, has been appointed to the South Carolina Floodwater Commission to work to alleviate coastal and riverine flooding impacts in the state. The organization promotes the message: “South Carolina Beaches are a statewide treasure that require a strategic, longterm investment in cyclic maintenance.”
The SCBA serves as both messenger and repository of all things beach related, but without the chairs and umbrellas. For more information you can visit the SCBA’s website at SCBeaches.org, follow them on Facebook, call SCBA by dialing 843.371.7082 or send an email to email@example.com