News+Opinion » D. A. Smith

Using public funds to save private property

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As Yogi Berra once said, "It's like deja vu, all over again" and this time it's the Isle of Palms' turn.

Last week, some in the state House of Representatives filed a carbon copy of a Senate bill that would amend the 1976 S.C. Code so that the "entire shoreline of a municipality shall be considered as providing full and complete access if full and complete access is provided on more than one-half of the municipality's shoreline and the municipality's shoreline offers twice as much beach access as is required by the South Carolina Beachfront Management Plan."

The two bills, S. 904 and H. 4542, are the latest attempt at an "end-around" the public interest as the sponsors try to fund beachfront renourishment projects for private, gated communities with taxpayer dollars by changing the definition of "full and complete access."

Nice, huh?

It gets better: Most of the sponsors either live in coastal communities or are in the real estate business.

The Senate bill is brought to you by Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Isle of Palms), who lives near Gov. Mark Sanford, Sen. Yancy McGill (D-Kingstree), who sells real estate and is a homebuilder, and Sen. Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson), an Upstate pharmacist.

H. 4542 is sponsored by local yokels Rep. Ben Hagood (R-Mt. Pleasant), Rep. Wallace Scarborough (R-Charleston) and Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston). Another sponsor, Rep. Bill Herbkersman (R-Bluffton) is a Hilton Head-area real estate developer.

Now, I'm all for looking out for the home team, but you might as well set the money to be used for beachfront renourishment on fire for all the good it ever accomplishes.

In this go-around, it's the north end of the Isle of Palms that's getting hammered by some especially vicious beach erosion. The consequence is that some Wild Dunes condominium buildings are facing the threat of collapse as the Atlantic makes incursions onto the property.

Wild Dunes is a private, gated real estate development that does not allow the hoi polloi inside the fence. That's fine, but when the ocean begins to wreak its inevitable havoc on private land, then it's just tough shit for the developer asking for a handout from the masses. And anyway, Ray Charles could have seen that the decision to build on the north end of the Isle of Palms was a lousy idea.

Nearly every inch of the American coastline is shrinking because of rising sea levels. Beaches don't evaporate; they reconfigure. The sand on said beaches goes away when developers and governments put stuff like piers, groins, and seawalls in place to stem the tide of a naturally-occurring phenomenon.

In fairness, I'll note that the Wild Dunes people and the Town of Isle of Palms have decided that the situation on the north end is dire enough for them to figure out how to fund a renourishment project themselves. To me, that's still too much government interference in our lives, but that's for the IOP residents to decide on election day.

The Statehouse bills won't change the way federal law bans funding renourishment projects on private holdings, but they could open the door for state money to be spent on lands to which the general public is denied access. And in the future, the notorious tightwad Sanford isn't going to always be around to torpedo such waste.

So when your beach house or condo with the terrific view falls into the ocean, that's your problem, regardless of whether it's in a gated development or not. It's most certainly not the responsibility of the American taxpayers, most of whom have never seen the ocean with their own eyes.

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