- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 7, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Two environmental groups have followed through on their threat to sue South Carolina if it doesn’t protect sea turtles from hard plastic seawalls installed on beaches a few years ago.

The state Sierra Club and Wildlife Federation filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Department of Health and Environmental Control, according to a report by the State newspaper (https://bit.ly/2hhADH9). The groups want a federal judge to require the immediate removal of the walls, which they say keep federally protected loggerhead sea turtles from being able to reach nesting sites in Charleston and Beaufort counties.

State officials declined to comment on the federal lawsuit, which also asks the court to declare the seawalls illegal under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Lawmakers allowed the seawalls as part of an experiment to see if officials could stop erosion and protect turtles. The portable plastic barriers are supposed to protect valuable oceanfront property without further eroding beaches and are touted as easy to remove during sea turtle nesting season. Openings let seawater pass, which is supposed to limit beach erosion.

According to the lawsuit, DHEC allowed the seawalls to remain in place, even though the devices were supposed to come down last summer.

In September, the DHEC board overturned a staff decision that ordered property owners at Harbor Island and Isle of Palms to remove the walls, a move conservation groups and some property owners say has made the walls impediments to endangered sea turtles. According to environmentalists, turtles can’t reach sand dunes to lay eggs in the summer.

The DHEC board is scheduled to discuss the seawall issue again at its meeting Thursday.

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Information from: The State, https://www.thestate.com

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