COLUMBIA — The South Carolina Senate made it clear Tuesday that it is firm about giving the private Georgetown County community of Debordieu just three years to replace its aging barrier at the water’s edge – a move that would be a revision to the state’s 26-year-old ban on new seawalls
The Senate passed the measure 39-2, after adding it into a joint resolution that previously concerned golf course sandbags. The resolution calls for the three-year limit for Debordieu to do the job without the help of taxpayer money. The resolution tracks language in a bill already passed by the Senate.
A House committee had voted to extend that grace period to seven years. The House will debate its amended version Wednesday.
Meanwhile, critics said any exception to the ban on seawalls would set a dangerous precedent.
Sponsoring Sen. Raymond Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, said several dozen, beachfront million-dollar homes in Debordieu are threatened by erosion and the state could be held liable if homeowners are prevented from repairing the nearly mile-long wall.
Cleary said it is only fair to allow a privately-funded beach renourishment when the state is allowing a wave dissipation machine to be tried at Mt. Pleasant.
“If Folly Beach can be grandfathered and if the Battery can be repaired, probably at taxpayer expense, at least allow the Debordieu owners to protect their homes at their own expense,” Cleary said.
Opponents argue that making an exception to the ban would set a dangerous precedent. They said the wall would be futile and would lead to further erosion.
South Carolina Environmental Law Project director Amy Armstrong said the bill would also overturn last year’s recommendations by a 1987 Blue Ribbon Panel that said that the state should never move the baseline. Cleary’s bill would allow the wall to be rebuilt within 2 feet of its current location.
“It is really special interest legislation that is going to benefit very people to the detriment of the public beach which is one of our primary economic drivers in our state because of the tourism it brings in,” Armstrong said.
Francie Close, a former Debordieu resident, conservationist and member of the Blue Ribbon Panel that recommended the ban on new seawalls, agreed.
“It is not the business of the state to protect people who built their houses on the sand like me,” said Close. “It is the state’s business to protect the natural resources of South Carolina. The beach is certainly one of our most valuable resources and the beaches belong to the people of South Carolina, not the people who build on its edges.”
Meanwhile, other legislation to allow the construction of experimental new wave dissipation technology to combat beach erosion unanimously passed in the House on Tuesday.
The bill seeks to permit the building of the reusable plastic walls which can be quickly installed and removed. Supporters say the flexible walls allow water and sand to flow through the device, unlike hardened walls that actually worsen erosion.
Critics say the wave dissipation device needs more testing before it is approved.
The wave dissipation bill, which has also passed unanimously in the Senate, requires another vote in the House for passage.