South Carolina lawmakers took steps Wednesday to stop developers from building too close to the ocean. It’s an effort to prevent construction farther out on the beach at a time of rising sea levels and massive development along the coast.
State Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, said the new permanent restrictions are vital after taxpayers spent millions to renourish public beaches. At issue are the “beachfront critical areas” located near the ocean. Current state law requires special permits to build seaward of the baseline that South Carolina uses to classify the furthest inland point of erosion. That baseline was typically recalculated every 8-10 years since 1989, but could occasionally move seaward as beaches were expanded.
The new law requires the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to set the final line next year. “I would like the line to be fixed permanently where it is now,” Cleary said on the Senate floor. “Technically, by law, DHEC is required to fix it terminally again in 2017.”
The legislation would freeze the line from ever being moved seaward after Dec. 31, 2017. It now heads to Gov. Nikki Haley for her approval. The governor has been mum on the bill so far, but is believed to support the intentions behind it.
Cleary said the new line also protects the coast as development continues at a strong pace. “The line should be a firmly established fix, period.
The line is the result of a blue ribbon commission’s study into South Carolina’s beachfront management laws and how best to adjust them. University of South Carolina law professor Josh Eagle sat on the commission and says the idea was the “most important” of their recommendations.
“We ought not to build on oceanfront property when there is a very high risk of future erosion at that location,” Eagle said. “While it is tempting to think of risky building as a matter that should be left to the property owner and the market, it is well-documented that the collision of erosion and beachfront homes results in substantial costs to South Carolina taxpayers, from replacing damaged infrastructure to subsidizing insurance to providing disaster relief.”