Opinion Extra

Young: Seaward of common sense? SC needs to put an end to building on the beach

South Carolina’s beautiful beaches are a vital component of this state’s economy. Managing them wisely is critical to the health of the economy and to ensuring that state and local tax dollars are not wasted on futile efforts to protect homes needlessly placed in areas of obvious high hazard.

Toward that end, the board of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control appointed a Blue Ribbon Committee, composed of stakeholders from diverse groups within the coastal community and from across the political spectrum. I was honored to serve on the committee to provide a scientific perspective. The members of this group did not agree on everything, but we did find consensus on some fundamental recommendations for the preservation of South Carolina’s beachfront.

Some of the most important of these recommendations are being offered in House Bill 3378, the Public Beach Protection Act, filed by Rep. Bill Herbkersman, a Beaufort County Republican who was a member of the committee. This bill has already garnered nine co-sponsors, from both sides of the aisle. Of most critical importance is the stipulation that the “baseline” established under the S.C. Beachfront Management Act should never move seaward from its position on June 14, 2011. A companion bill introduced by Sen. Ray Clary, S.139, will be discussed at a meeting of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Room 207 of the Gressette Building, on the State House grounds.

Current law requires the baseline to be set every eight to 10 years, and corresponding coastal setbacks are determined from that baseline. In simple terms, if you move the baseline seaward, you can move the buildings seaward. The problem is that the forces that might build a shoreline out over a few years can be the same forces that move the shoreline back over the next few years. Anyone who spends time at the coast understands what Job meant when he proclaimed “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”

The vast majority of coastal buildings currently facing erosion problems in South Carolina were simply built too close to the sea or in areas of clear coastal hazard. Unfortunately, these poorly located homes can have a significant impact on a coastal community. Officials in Folly Beach have to deal with the constant headache caused by a small number of homes on the north end of the island that were built seaward of common sense. These properties drain public resources, as there is a constant struggle to protect them from storms and deal with the public nuisance they cause by severely degrading the public beach in front of them.

The same is true of the Ocean Club Villas on Isle of Palms. Taxpayers and other homeowners must pay to pump a beach in front of that condo every few years. When will other oceanfront property owners tire of the fact that these irresponsibly placed structures prevent folks from walking down the beach because the beach is often gone in front of that building?

The vast majority of South Carolinians understand the problem. Building too close to the sea is a bad idea, and far too often the taxpayers get stuck paying for it. The Public Beach Protection Act would go a long way toward ensuring that we will not be placing future structures in immediate danger.

One note of caution: Some interested parties have suggested that we should wait to lock in the baseline until it is drawn again in a few years. This would be a terrible mistake. We have a scientifically drawn line that has been in force for several years. If the Legislature decides to defer locking in the line until it is redrawn, special interests who want to influence the process will hire lobbyists and manipulate the process. We risk having much of the line drawn in courtrooms, rather than in an organized, scientifically valid process.

South Carolina’s beaches provide economic and recreational opportunities for all South Carolinians, not just those who build on the oceanfront. Through Rep. Herbkersman’s bill, we have an opportunity to ensure that the state and local communities will not be on the hook for the kind of construction that does more to harm the local economy than help it. It is pretty much just common sense.