After months of disputes between Beaufort County and various state agencies, the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office has said the county must pick up the tab for clearing Hurricane Matthew storm debris from waterways.
According to the Island Packet newspaper, an opinion last month from the Attorney General’s office stated that as a coastal county, Beaufort County, possesses legal responsibility with respect to debris cleanup in the tidelands areas.
The county had argued the law could be read as requiring the state to clean up any debris since it and not private landowners technically hold all the tidelands marshes in South Carolina. However, Assistant Attorney General Anita Fair noted that while the state owns the marshes it also allows the county to enforce local ordinances and rules there.
“The State may still delegate regulatory power over those areas… to its political subdivisions,” the opinion stated. “This it has done.”
Fair’s opinion noted the state could still assist with cleanup if it wished, but it has no legal obligation to do so. It also hoped the county could be fully reimbursed for its cleanup efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Beaufort County is facing a hefty price tag for removing the debris. According to the newspaper, preliminary projections from the county estimate it could top $5 million. While the county has to clear items such as damaged docks out of areas along shorelines and around wetlands, debris removal in deeper navigable channels will be done by the Coast Guard.