Gov. Henry McMaster on Thursday asked South Carolina environmental regulators to hold off on new beachfront building restrictions for another year, although it’s not clear if the agency has the authority to delay even if it wanted.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is seeking public comment on the new placement of “baseline” and “setback” lines along the South Carolina coastline. Under state law, property owners cannot build between the ocean and the baseline due to concerns about future erosion. Any structures between the two lines must follow the agency’s strict regulations.
Legislators previously set December 31, 2017 as the deadline for the agency’s baseline to take effect. In other words, the agency cannot move the line closer to the ocean after that date.
Several thousand existing homes on barrier islands or the Grand Strand would fall at least partially on the wrong side of the baseline after Dec. 31. Property owners are upset about the new lines, worried it could prevent them from doing repairs in the future even after hurricanes. State law allows repairs on homes which are located between the baseline and ocean, but only if they remain the same square footage afterwards. The public has until Nov. 6 to comment, 30 days after the new lines were revealed earlier this month.
McMaster joined concerns by several industry groups and the SC Beach Advocates, a coalition of coastal towns and hospitality groups. “The 30-day comment period is inadequate for a decision that may dramatically and negatively impact our state’s economy,” the governor said in his letter.
State law gives property owners the ability to appeal DHEC decisions. However, environmental groups say the new baseline shows the impact of erosion and the need to prevent more construction in potential storm surge areas.