Saying we want to preserve South Carolina's public beaches is easy. Developing rules that make that possible is hard.
And sticking to those rules can be even harder.
A recent example of that conundrum is a bill introduced by a Spartanburg County lawmaker for a constituent who owns an oceanfront home on Folly Beach. The homeowner, with waves lapping ever closer, built a seawall in front of his home, which is prohibited under state law because it worsens erosion. State regulators told him to remove the seawall.
The lawmaker's solution: A new law that would allow seawalls or other hard structures if the ocean gets within 10 feet of properties.
The bill calls for five-day, expedited permitting of beach property protection measures, "notwithstanding any other provision of law." Lawmakers tried to rework it to apply only to Folly Beach, which is exempt from some aspects of state law because of erosion caused by jetties in Charleston harbor.
But regulators and environmentalists worried that it would have allowed hard structures up and down the coast even if lawmakers tried to make it apply only to Folly Beach.
That would undermine a key plank of the state's efforts to preserve a dry sandy beach for the public and reduce damage from major storms.
Fortunately, common sense seems to have prevailed. The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee decided Thursday to hold onto the bill. With a legislative deadline looming this week, it is probably dead for this legislative session.
It shouldn't be revived this year or next year.
The bill came as the state considers major new policies for managing its shoreline. The final report from the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management is up for public comment now. (To see the report, go to www.scdhec.gov/environment/ocrm/blue_ribbon.htm.)
Its most far-reaching proposal is to do away with the state's policy of gradual retreat from the shoreline and replace it with a more general statement about protecting the state's beaches.
Pressures to preserve in place existing homes and businesses along the shore are tremendous. It's a major reason the retreat policy, set out in the state's landmark Beachfront Management Act of 1988, has not resulted in moving building back from the shore. In fact, many say development has encroached even closer to the active beach over the past 25 years.
The committee's report lists some reasons for the policy's failure:
But that goal is no more doable than retreat if the right regulations aren't in place and if they aren't properly enforced.
And that's why the bill from the Upstate lawmaker is disturbing. Constituent pressure cannot be allowed to run roughshod over scientifically based rules that protect the public's beach and the dune system.
We know hard structures, such as seawalls, rock revetments and groins, exacerbate erosion. We have seen the effects all along our shoreline. That's why new structures were prohibited and old ones couldn't be rebuilt if they were damaged more than 50 percent under the 1988 law.
No matter the stated policy, the pressure to protect private investment along our beaches is not going away. Lawmakers must keep front and center the commitment to protect an increasingly valuable public resource.