Few things in government move particularly quickly. We’ve accepted the reailty that delays in public initiatives are inevitable and progress is painfully slow. But South Carolina’s plodding efforts to prepare new guidelines for managing the state’s shoreline are trying our patience.
Five years after the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control began its Shoreline Change Initiative to update coastal policy, the policies are still being developed, discussed and haggled over. Meanwhile, the coast continues to require expensive, regular renourishment, development rules are still fairly lax and misunderstood, and instead of the state’s hoped for retreat from the coast, builders have continued to erect or redevelop property seaward of the line drawn in the sand 25 years ago.
What have state leaders and experts been doing for the past five years? They’ve been compiling data and writing reports. First there was the Shoreline Change Advisory Committee, a 23-member group which met for two years and then released exhaustive reports in 2009 and 2010 with recommendations for legislative action. Their work was apparently not enough. In 2010, the agency formed the 16-member Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management, with the goal of considering the recommendations of the previous committee, prioritizing them and turning them into even more detailed policy options. The second group’s work, which had been scheduled to be complete by this spring, continues, and will almost certainly stretch into next year.
Why does any of this matter? In short, because the beach is our livelihood here on the Grand Strand. It’s what brings in millions of tourists each year and it’s what encourages those one-time visitors to become full-time residents in our growing communities. Protecting that resource and ensuring that it will not only survive in the future but thrive is important to all of us who live on the coast.
Those meeting this time around are following up and building on the work of a 1986-1987 group, led by then-Myrtle Beach Mayor Erick Ficken, that studied the state of the state’s beaches and found “a persistent rise in sea level, poorly planned development which encroaches upon the beach/dune system, and a lack of comprehensive planning.”
Many of the group’s subsequent recommendations, including a proposed 40-year retreat from the eroding coast, were written into the state’s Beachfront Management Act, which still governs coastal policy.
But while that first group laid a good foundation of state policies, many of those rules could stand to be tweaked 25 years on. Others have been poorly implemented or undercut by other state rules. Some have just been ignored in practice. Hence the recent committees to update the law.
While we appreciate the hard, continuing work of those who serve on these panels -- including state Sen. Ray Cleary, state Rep. Tracy Edge and Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis -- we’re getting tired of waiting.
The economic downturn relieved some of the pressure for working on the rules as coastal development slowed. But construction activity is picking up again, which is good news for the economy but also redoubling the need for clarity on what our policies will be for such development in the future. It’s time to stop talking and put pen to paper, and offer legislators some specific recommendations that will guide them as they create the laws that will govern the coast’s growth in coming decades.
Of course, even after a report is finally finished, the next problem will be getting busy lawmakers to read it in an upcoming session that already seems packed full of issues competing for attention. The worst possible outcome would be for these panels to spend five years creating reports only for them to be dutifully placed on a shelf. In a pessimistic moment earlier this month, that’s exactly what Rep. Edge predicted would happen. We hope that’s not the case, but if it is, we can only look to our own coastal legislators to ensure the topic does not go unheeded.