The following editorial appeared Wednesday in The (Charleston) Post and Courier:
Hard erosion control devices aren’t generally allowed on South Carolina beaches, and with good reason. That warrants a strong legal deterrent against the unapproved installation of such structures.
Here’s why: Seawalls actually can accelerate erosion, often on adjacent property.
And when erosion increases downdrift, the “solution” is frequently more seawalls or rip rap. The result is the loss of or damage to a valuable public resource.
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So there has to be a compelling public reason for the state to allow their installation, even temporarily.
Nevertheless, state regulators have attempted to accommodate efforts to slow the erosion at the north end of the Isle of Palms by allowing the temporary installation of sandbags to forestall the relentless erosion near the Ocean Club at the Wild Dunes resort.
But the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control had no idea that a seawall was part of the erosion control strategy — not until one was uncovered beneath the sandbags that DHEC had approved.
DHEC officials are displeased, to say the least, and the penalty shows it. The Ocean Club was hit with a $750,000 fine earlier this month.
“DHEC is not in the business of being punitive for being punitive’s sake,” DHEC director Catherine Templeton said then. “This is a willful violation of state law that (was) concealed purposefully. It is a rare case in this agency where people are openly dismissive of the law.”
The condominium development has been charged $1,000 a day retroactively for the roughly two-year period time that the seawall is believed to have been in place.
And the meter is still running. The fine has now reached $760,000.
The failure of sandbags and other permitted devices speaks to the unrelenting forces of nature, not a shortcoming of the regulatory system primarily designed to protect the coast. There are still steps to go in the appeals process. First there’s the DHEC board, then an administrative law court. It’s rare for a settlement not to be worked out.
But in this case, a lack of other options just won’t wash as an excuse for an illegal seawall. The DHEC penalty reflects that fact.