Conservation groups on Wednesday attacked a Statehouse plan that they say will undermine a law preventing developers from building out into the ocean.
Members of the Conservation League, South Carolina Environmental Law Project, and other groups say S. 890‘s exemption will allow a new seawall to be built at Debordieu Beach, an upscale beachfront community in Georgetown County. The state banned new seawalls in 1988 after evidence showed they cause faster erosion along a beach, but Debordieu was allowed to keep its temporary wall it had already installed.
State Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet, was able to get language exempting Debordieu included in a larger bill dealing with coastal development. He said about a half-dozen homes at the development are already dangerously close to the ocean and could be washed away by a particularly strong storm surge.
But South Carolina Environmental Law Project executive director Amy Armstrong said seawalls were banned for a reason — they cause the beach in front of them to erode even more quickly. “When the waves come pounding up against the wall… they scour out beneath the wall,” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “So they make the erosion in front of the wall worse.” She worried an exemption in Georgetown County could lead to exemptions elsewhere.
The bill cleared the House Agriculture Committee in a 17-1 vote last week. It could come up in the full House as soon as Thursday, but committee chairman State Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surfside Beach, said he wants to see what kind of support exists before he requests a vote.
State Rep. Mandy Powers-Norrell, D-Lancaster, was the only “no” vote in the committee. She said Wednesday that she believes alternative options exist for Debordieu. “The homeowners have had 25 years to prepare for the state of events that exist today,” she said, comparing the situation to her child asking to stay home from school to avoid an exam they had not studied for, “But that’s not even the situation here. The situation here would be as if my child came to me this morning and said, ‘Mom, next year I’m going to have an exam and I’m not prepared.'”
Goldfinch said he was frustrated with the conservationists, who he said never approached him with their concerns before holding a press conference condemning his proposal.
“It’s certainly not environmentally sound to have five or six large beach houses fall into the ocean,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “That sounds like an environmental disaster to me.” He said Debordieu residents were willing to pay for the entire seawall themselves without state help.
If the House approves the amendment, the bill would still need to get approval from the Senate. The upper chamber approved a version of the bill last month that did not include the seawall exemption. But on Wednesday, senators did vote to include the exemption in the state budget.