Coastal property owners could soon be free of a process to set new beach lines if a proposed bill passes — at least until 2023.
The bill calls for a longer public comment period and more informational sessions after a public outcry last year due to a lack of time to learn about the lines that will affect how properties can be rebuilt if they are damaged.
"You had homeowners that were finding out about this late in the process because of lack of notification, and it just was a total flawed process and created an uproar," South Carolina Representative Lee Hewitt said. "And that's over 21,000 properties along the coast of South Carolina that were affected.
"Some negatively, some stayed the same and about 1,000 had some properties that moved seaward. Well, the process was so flawed that now DHEC postponed the process until April, public input in May."
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The lines are defined by a baseline and set back lines, and are reevaluated every seven to 10 years in order to calculate erosion rates along the shoreline.
Within the setback line, the more landward of the two lines, houses as well as “associated infrastructure” including decks, gazebos and other public access structures can be built. If a home is damaged within the setback line it can be repaired up to the size of the original house. Up to 5,000-square-feet of new heated space can also be rebuilt in the setback area.
In the baseline, the more seaward line, wooden walkways, small wooden decks, fishing piers, golf courses, normal landscaping and structures must be authorized by the special permit. If a home is damaged, the special permit must also be received to rebuild the home to its original size.
Last year, the public only had a month the learn how the lines would impact their homes. The time frame became controversial due to the fact that once the lines were set in 2017 the baseline could not move seaward again unless the legislation was changed.
However, after pushback from the public, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control decided to extend the public comment period until April 6, "based on the comments received from landowners, community leaders, the conservative community, and others during this initial 30-day public comment period," their website states.
"We are currently tracking legislation and providing information as requested," Tommy Crosby, public information officer at DHEC, said in an email.
If the bill is passed, the public comment period will be extended to 120 days rather than 30, S.C. DHEC must provide notice of the changes on their website and in a public publication like a newspaper. The bill would also reset the lines to where they were on Dec. 31, 2012.
"They'll start gathering the data in 2023, which means the new lines would be released sometime in 2024 or 2025," Hewitt said.
The bill also states that data cannot be used if it was collected after a named tropical event.
"They must use data collected prior to that storm so we ensure the homeowner that we're using data on a healthy beach, not one that was just impacted by a hurricane," Hewitt said.
However, if the bill does pass, the baseline will still not be able to move seaward due to the legislation already set.
Here's what else the bill would change:
- DHEC must hold a hearing in individual communities within the public comment period. This means that each city and town along the Grand Strand would have individual meetings.
- Data must be available when the lines are released so property owners will have an opportunity to review it.
- The appeal period will be changed to one year rather than 15 days.
Moving forward, Hewitt said the bill passed in the House last week, and will move to a hearing in front of the Senate Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.
"We've reached a good compromise with everyone," Hewitt said.