Conservation advocates breathed a sigh of relief this week as South Carolina lawmakers passed a shoreline management bill that aims to preserve areas along the state’s coast.
The bill will prevent the boundary for coastal development from being moved any closer to the sea after 2017, limiting any major construction beyond that point.
Under the S.C. Beachfront Management Act, the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control must reassess the location of these boundary lines every eight to 10 years based on the natural erosion and accretion that takes place along the coast. In 2013, a Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management, which included state legislators, legal advisors, and coastal leaders such as former Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., issued a report recommending that the state prohibit any further seaward movement of the baseline.
Arguing for a more conservative statewide policy to “hold the line,” the majority of committee members agreed that “beach accretion, whether natural or man-made, should provide a buffer to erosion and coastal hazards, rather than stimulate further development.” Under the new bill, local governments and landowners are unable to petition to have baselines moved seaward following a beach nourishment project.
The shoreline management bill has undergone numerous revisions since being introduced to the Senate in early 2015 with language establishing a permanent boundary for coastline development being stripped at one point, after which representatives from the League of Conservation Voters and Charleston County officials made a strong push to have that portion of the bill restored. According to a statement released by the Coastal Conservation League, Blue Ribbon Committee member and University of South Carolina law professor Josh Eagle said the final version of the bill includes language that reflects the most important recommendations of the committee, such as not building on oceanfront property when there is a high risk of future erosion.
“While it is tempting to think of risky building as a matter that should be left to the property owner and the market, it is well-documented that the collision of erosion and beachfront homes results in substantial costs to South Carolina taxpayers, from replacing damaged infrastructure to subsidizing insurance to providing disaster relief,” said Eagle.
The bill does allow for a few exceptions when it comes to development beyond the baseline. These include the construction or repair of walkways no wider than six feet, small wooden decks no larger than 140 square feet, and fishing piers which are open to the public. Passing by unanimous vote in the state House of Representatives, the new regulations represent a decade-long effort by lawmakers and advocacy groups hoping to limit any further development along sensitive coastal areas.
State Rep. Peter McCoy of Charleston County’s District 115 said that preserving areas along South Carolina’s coast such as Captain Sam’s Spit must remain a priority for state legislators, while Katie Zimmerman of the Coastal Conservation League called the bill a “win for South Carolina taxpayers, South Carolina beaches, and South Carolina’s natural environment.”