In January, the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management completed its deliberations regarding beachfront management laws, regulations and policies as charged by the S.C. Board of Health and Environmental Control. The resulting "Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management Final Report, Recommendations for Improved Beachfront Management in South Carolina" outlines 16 regulatory and policy recommendations that the committee believes to be thoughtful, reasonable and necessary to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of our coastal resources and the communities that rely on them.
While much of the media's attention to the report has been focused on the committee's consideration and suggested refinement of the state's "policy of retreat," the nuance of the committee's deliberation and recommendation has been lost or otherwise overlooked.
Over the past several decades, South Carolina's beachfront has experienced significant natural and human-induced challenges, including hurricanes, chronic erosion and explosive population growth. Despite a stated "policy of retreat," state laws and regulations have not been sufficient to prevent extensive development of infrastructure and property in close proximity to unstable beaches. The Blue Ribbon Committee recognizes that the wholesale landward relocation of existing development away from unstable and eroding shorelines is generally not feasible, both logistically and financially. However, the committee also strongly advocates for curtailing new construction along unstable beaches and recommends numerous specific statutory and regulatory changes to enhance DHEC's ability to hold the line on beachfront development, protect fragile areas and preserve the public dry sand beach.
To that end, the Blue Ribbon Committee recommends replacing the policy of retreat with a broader policy of preservation of coastal beachfront and the beach-dune system. This recommended policy change is not intended, nor should it be interpreted, as an easing of restrictions on beachfront development. As stated explicitly in the report, "preservation" includes the implementation of coastal management techniques such as beach nourishment, the landward movement or removal of habitable structures whenever necessary and feasible, the conservation of undeveloped shorelines and sand dune creation and stabilization using sand fencing and native vegetation.
This refinement of the policy provides a more coherent framework on which beachfront regulations might be implemented, including those recommended by the committee. For example, the committee recommends that the state jurisdictional baseline be fixed at its present location and only be subsequently modified landward, thus limiting seaward encroachment of development. Further, the committee recommends more stringent building allowances within the jurisdictional setback area in addition to enhanced performance standards for the use of sandbags and other emergency interventions.
When the Blue Ribbon Committee was established in October 2010, the membership was purposefully comprised of representative stakeholders from key constituencies of our diverse coastal community. Despite varying perspectives, the members committed to thoughtfully deliberate state laws, regulations and policies, consider scientific and technical information and share their own personal and professional experiences. As the chairman of the committee, I am pleased that the result of our process is a set of recommendations that garnered the support of strong voting majorities, and in many cases, unanimous support of voting members.
On behalf of the members of the Blue Ribbon Committee, I strongly encourage all South Carolinians to read the report and offer comments. It is our intention to ensure that our state's beaches and beachfront communities remain a vibrant place to live, work and enjoy for the citizens and visitors of our state, now and for future generations.
For additional information, go to: www.scdhec.gov/environment/ocrm/blue_ribbon.htm.
William W. Jones is a Bluffton area attorney and chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management.