By Brian Sherman for The Island Eye News
Gov. Henry McMaster was expected to sign into law a bill that requires municipalities on South Carolina’s barrier islands to provide at least some free parking on state roads and also gives towns and cities along the coast some leeway concerning how they can spend parking fees.
S. 40, sponsored by State Sen. Larry Grooms, passed its final reading in the House May 13 after a 102-10 vote. Grooms said he expected the governor’s signature sometime during the week beginning May 17.
State Rep. Joe Bustos, who represents Sullivan’s Island, the Isle of Palms and parts of Mount Pleasant, was among the 10 House members who opposed the bill, which also was unpopular among members of the IOP City Council.
“I’m glad we were able to get this matter settled. In the past decade, 90% of free parking on the Isle of Palms has disappeared. Some of it was restored, working with IOP and the Department of Transportation,” Grooms commented. “All of this was done in time for the beach season.”
The bill allows municipalities to establish paid parking on state-maintained roads, but only with SCDOT’s permission.
It also lets cities and towns use parking fees to pay for beachrelated activities such as fire and rescue services and beach cleanup and renourishment.
On IOP, paid parking is currently available in two lots and along Ocean Boulevard
at Front Beach. There is no paid parking on Sullivan’s Island.
“I’m pleased it was passed. It will ensure that all our state citizens have the right to park on state roads,” said Myra Jones, a director of The Charleston Beach Foundation, a group formed in 2020 “to help keep the beaches as accessible as possible to everyone.” “Every beach community must have some free parking. It’s very important for people with limited financial means to be able to spend a day at the beach with their family. Some people can’t afford $10 to park.”
Jones said she has no problem with having some paid parking on the Isle of Palms, as long as the charge to park is “fair and reasonable.”
“This law will allow opportunities to park on state roadways. They can still have their city-owned lots. That’s great. It’s a revenue generator for them,” she said.
“The Charleston Beach Foundation was formed because we all love and appreciate the beaches,” she added. “Our public beaches are something that should be shared with everyone. Everyone should be able to afford a day at the beach.”
S. 40 also makes it unlawful “for any person willfully to obstruct ditches and drainage openings along any highway, to place obstructions upon any such highway or to throw or place on any such highway any objects likely to cut or otherwise injure vehicles using them.” Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $100 a day and up to 30 days in jail. Grooms said one reason this provision was placed in the bill was to keep homeowners from eliminating parking on the right of way in front of their homes by, for example, planting bushes there.
Not everyone is happy about S. 40 passing the South Carolina Senate and House. At the IOP Council’s April 27 meeting, Council Member Randy Bell said he was “very troubled by the bill’s ambiguous language” and added that it “appears to remove a lot of the home rule rights that communities in South Carolina have enjoyed for a long time.”
Meanwhile, Bustos, an advocate of home rule, said the bill makes it too easy for paid parking along state roads to be approved by SCDOT.
“If IOP went to the secretary of transportation and wanted to put in paid parking and use the proceeds to hire a policeman or for a watercraft to rescue people, she wouldn’t say no,” Bustos said. “What they’ve done is given a green light for the town to ask for paid parking on Palm Boulevard. I voted against paid parking, and they voted for paid parking, as it turns out. The bill is confusing. It should never have been passed.”