Editorial | Stop development from moving farther seaward

January 16, 2014 

The following editorial appeared Wednesday in The (Hilton Head) Island Packet:

Golf courses, condos, high-rise hotels, giant homes and other projects are creeping dangerously close to the state’s shoreline. It’s been a problem for decades despite a long-standing law to stop it.

The state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control has been interpreting the beach management law, passed in 1988, in a decidedly un-green way. These state regulators have eased development restrictions when taxpayers have ponied up cash for beach renourishment projects, allowing encroachment into sensitive, unstable areas prone to flooding and other hazards.

The rationale has been that the beach has grown, erosion has been stopped (at least temporarily) and there’s now new oceanfront space for construction.

But beach renourishment projects are meant to stave off erosion and lessen flooding and other risks, not encourage further development.

As environmental groups point out, these renourishment projects only temporarily widen shore lines. The sand eventually washes away. And when it does, taxpayers must pay for costly projects to haul in more sand or risk beachfront properties flooding and eventually collapsing.

Residents can also potentially be liable when rising sea levels, hurricanes and other storms damage the structures, and developers seek relief from the state legislature.

Since 1985, S.C. taxpayers have spent $233 million to artificially widen state beaches with the majority of the sand applied to Hilton Head Island, the Grand Strand and Folly Beach. It’s an ongoing battle with Mother Nature, as strong currents and rising seas constantly gnaw at the coastline while an increasing number of hard structures encourage erosion and fail to give the beach and dunes system the space needed to ensure their health, natural habitat and storm buffer.

Meanwhile, population growth and oceanfront development have meant less room for beach combers to stroll along the shore.

It’s good news that state Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, has introduced a bill to change the law, prohibiting new buildings closer to the ocean than the current line of beach development. The legislation would also bar the state from ever moving the building restriction line seaward.

Cleary’s bill is based on recommendations from a blue-ribbon committee that’s been studying the state’s beach managment plan for the past two years. Members, which include Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, and former Hilton Head Island Mayor Thomas Peeples, determined that while a slow, steady retreat from the ocean has been the intended policy of South Carolina since the 1988 beach management law, just the opposite has happened, partly because of loopholes in the law as well as a lack of programs, funding and space to move current structures farther back from the ocean.

Cleary’s bill gives up on an actual retreat from the beach, instead just trying to hold the building restriction line to its current location.

We wish him luck and hope our local representatives will give him the backing he needs.

Political work needs to begin soon at the Statehouse to curb risky beachfront development that is environmentally unsound and jeopardizes property and the beaches on which our economy depends.

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