By Brian Sherman for The Island Eye News
Gov. Henry McMaster has fired another volley in a long-running battle over parking on South Carolina’s barrier islands, signing into law legislation that gives the Department of Transportation the authority to decide where visitors to the beach can park on state roads and how much, if anything, they’ll have to pay. On May 24, McMaster put his signature on S. 40, a bill sponsored by State Sen. Larry Grooms that received overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate.
Though Grooms and McMaster received accolades from the Charleston Beach Foundation, an organization formed in 2020 “to help keep the beaches as accessible as possible to everyone,” the legislation remained unpopular with another group of Lowcountry residents – the Barrier Island Preservation Alliance – and with members of the Isle of Palms City Council, which passed a resolution May 21 condemning S. 40 and urging the governor to veto it. The resolution, passed by a 7-0 margin, with Council Members Ryan Buckhannon and Phillip Pounds absent, referred to the legislation “an unconstitutional denial of the city’s right to equal protection and in violation of the Home Rule Act,” and Mayor Jimmy Carroll vowed to fight it “by all lawful means.” “We are willing to fight for our 2015 parking plan. We strongly believe we are well within our rights,” Carroll commented. “This resolution reflects our concern with the precedent S. 40 sets not just for Isle of Palms but for all communities throughout the state,” Council Member John Moye added. “S. 40 was conceived as a response to temporary measures taken during an entirely unprecedented pandemic.
But while the measures taken during the COVID pandemic were temporary, the adverse impact of the S. 40 precedent would be felt for decades.” Council Member Randy Bell, chair of the Public Safety Committee, agreed, urging all to “consider the broad impact of this intended usurpation of The Home Rule Act, which explicitly gives municipalities the sole power to control roads and streets with their municipality for purposes of public health and safety.” “No state official should use issues of public safety as a tool to pander to a vocal minority for purposes of political gain,” Bell added.
Pounds, who has announced that he will run for the mayor’s position in November, struck a more conciliatory tone.
“I’m hopeful that meaningful dialogue and a collaborative spirit can be implemented by all parties involved,” Pounds said. “We will work with Secretary Hall as well as other local leaders to continue to prioritize and focus on the safety and security of our residents and visitors.” S. 40 permits municipalities to charge for parking on state roads, but only with approval from the Department of Transportation. It also allows cities and towns to use parking fees to pay for beach-related activities such as fire and rescue services and beach cleanup and renourishment. In signing the bill, McMaster released a statement citing the controversy that has arisen since Grooms pre-filed the legislation last year. “On the one hand, those who opposed these restrictions, and now support this legislation, have accused coastal municipalities of using emergency measures to limit the general public’s ability to access the beach, effectively converting their communities into private islands, under the auspices of protecting public health,” McMaster wrote. “While on the other hand, certain opponents of this bill have publicly accused its sponsors of pandering, for political purposes, to a vocal minority of residents who were frustrated by their inability to access public beaches.” A statement released by Charleston Beach Foundation Directors Lee Rowland, Corey Kinsella and Myra Jones pointed out that the legislation “will ensure that access to our treasured public beaches via state-owned roads will be protected for our state’s citizens today and for generations to come.”
There were dissenters other than members of the IOP Council, however. The Barrier Island Preservation Alliance (BIPA), a group that includes more than 200 local residents, called the bill “an overreaction and overreach.”
“We believe this was a very impulsive response to a once-ina-lifetime pandemic,” said Morgan Harris, an IOP resident and an active member of BIPA. “The governments of the barrier islands were trying to make the best possible public health decisions for their residents. We believe our local elected officials have the best scope of emergency management and public safety and can handle decisions on parking, safety and quality of life.”
“We are taking this one day at a time and hope to be able to collaborate with the state on this matter. We’ll continue to make our decisions guided by what’s best for the city of Isle of Palms and its residents and visitors,” Harris concluded.