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ONDBEAT: Split saga stretches on in Sunset Beach

Just when people thought they’d found paradise in Sunset Beach, somebody invented politics.

For more than a decade, perhaps even dating back to the days of the town’s official launch 56 years ago, controversy always seems to be concocting just around the next beach bend.

Back when the pontoon bridge was still in operation as the only way to traverse the Intracoastal Waterway between the Sunset Beach mainland and island, the natives used to joke about local-yokel gossip, summing it up as a soap opera titled “As the Bridge Turns.”

Maybe the old bridge isn’t turning anymore, but the ongoing drama drums on like a worn-out timpani.

This probably comes as a surprise to no one, as well as an un-shocking revelation the town and its townspeople remain starkly split on just about everything.

That point was recently underscored when non-politically-correct councilman Richard Cerrato was once again ordered ousted from an April Fool’s Day town meeting by Mayor Pro Tem Mark Benton, aka longtime voting mayoral substitute, for being loud, interruptive and out of order in his behavior and comments about no one’s new favorite word and topic: dredging.

Dredging is one town agenda item I started dreading months, yea, years ago. But like it or not it keeps getting dredged up anyway.

Those who favor it are hoping for millions in state grant money to finally get this ex-“spend”-sive deeper-water project under way to benefit the few hundred property owners along its proposed creek, canal and bay paths.

I’m either totally in favor of or opposed to dredging as long as the powers-in-charge of the ultimate outcome promise the d-word will be abolished from the Sunset Beach lexicon for good and that it will never be dredged up again (whichever way the wind blows and water flows).

Cerrato, who was also recently faulted for sending a letter to a decision-making state agency in which he expressed opposition to the dredging grant, has repeatedly stated at town meetings he isn’t against (insert d-word here).

What he’s against, he recently revealed, is using so many millions in taxpayer money for a project to benefit so few. Maybe he could have just said so a few years ago.

Investment-minded Benton, on the other hand, has spoken on behalf of the project, hoping it can drive up property values and talking back to at least one citizen at a public meeting who raised concern about how the grant might not be awarded.

“Thanks to people like you,” he snarled after retired Clemson professor and island resident Dr. Richard Hilderman made the comment at the March 19 town council meeting.

Benton also opted last week to have Cerrato’s letter, as well as a handful of others from concerned citizens who wrote to the state agency, posted on the town website for all to see. Understandably, some of these citizens objected to their “scarlet letters” being involuntarily exposed in such a public way for exercising their First Amendment rights.

These are just some of the latest examples of divisiveness as the ongoing saga of Sunset Beach wages on like a soap opera that never reaches a conclusion, happily or otherwise.

Somehow it seems like the characters involved could at least play and act their parts a little nicer, if only for the sake of the unwitting audience who sometimes just wants to relax and soak up a carefree day or two in sunny Sunset Beach without having to change channels.

Laura Lewis is assistant editor for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.