The city of North Myrtle Beach on Tuesday received a $510,000 grant from the South Carolina Conservation Bank after asking for $2.5 million to help purchase the historic Ingram Dunes.
“I was overjoyed,” said Damien Triouleyre, who heads up the nonprofit Preserve Ingram Dunes. “Overjoyed, amazed and extremely thankful.”
The dunes, formed between 80,000 and 120,000 years ago, are the last remaining green space in the city east of U.S. 17. The 9.4-acre dunes are home to several species, including foxes, great horned owls, migratory birds and live oak trees that are hundreds of years old. They're located between Hillside Drive and Strand Avenue near 10th Avenue South.
"We were hoping we would get more," said North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley, adding that the city is thankful for the funding they did get. But Triouleyre was a bit happier.
“That’s a lot of money,” Triouleyre said. “Even though the city had asked for $2.5 million, that’s way, way more than they would ever grant. I was thinking $200,000, or $300,000, so $510,000 is a lot of money."
The city of North Myrtle Beach has also pledged $500,000 to the cause and Preserve Ingram Dunes has raised $100,000, including donations and hard pledges.
Even with all the donations, $1.2 million raised so far is still not enough to buy the land, which could cost the city between $2 million and $3.1 million to obtain. The land is currently slated to be developed.
But the $510,000 grant sends a message about how important the dunes are to the conservation bank. It’s the first time the bank has given money to anyone in Horry County since fiscal year 2012-2013, said the conservation bank's business manager Amber Larck. It represents an investment of more than $54,000 per acre.
"One of the board members said it was one of the most per acre they ever granted," Triouleyre said.
The grant application classified Ingram Dunes as a woodlands or forested area, and between the 2004 and 2017, the bank has spent less than $500 per acre on protecting lands under that classification.
“That was a big reason why we reduced it as much as we did,” Larck said. “There was a lot of other things that were taken into consideration in regards to this property.”
There is a catch, though.
Conservation bank Chairman Douglass Harper said the city will have to buy the land by June 30 if they want to keep the grant. The new fiscal year starts in July, and the money will have to be spent by then, meaning the city and local groups will have to raise the rest of the funds to purchase the property.
“That’s a pretty tall order,” Harper said. “I’m not sure they can do that, but we wanted to support Horry County.”
Triouleyre said while the city’s appraisal of the land is $1.9 million, the owners would like $3.1 million, meaning the $1.2 million pledged by the conservation bank, city, and Preserve Ingram Dunes represents, at best, half the money needed.
“They’ve got to come to an agreement of what the price is,” Triouleyre said. “The price could be as low as $2 million. If they used eminent domain, they could take possession of it pretty immediately. They would have to compensate the owner at fair market value. Hopefully you could come to an agreement on what fair market value is or you’d have to go to court. And the city doesn’t want to go to court.”
Harper said the conservation bank rarely grants the full asking price for any land purchase that it funds, but said he understands the importance of Ingram Dunes.
“We recognize the value of Horry County in general to the state, and specifically North Myrtle Beach and this property,” Harper said. “I’m a big supporter of urban parks. I think nature is very important to everybody’s health. It’s a pretty unique property. We’re glad to help, but it’s not a done deal until the community can come up with the rest of the funds.”
But for the sale to go through, the city will need to allocate more money.
“It’s going to require more money from, the city, there’s no doubt about it,” Triouleyre said. “It’s more of a question of ‘If there’s a will, there’s a way.’ City councilors want it, their heart is in it. The staff wants it, but the whole city is not committed to it.”
Hatley said the city hasn't discussed allocating more funding.
"I don’t feel comfortable speaking about it until we have all sat down and discussed what we think we can do," the mayor said. "I do not see us using imminent domain. Of course, we have not discussed that, but that’s something cities just don’t like to do unless it’s a necessity. Would this be nice to have? We would love to have it. Is it a necessity? No."