Homeowners, Realtors and residents across Beaufort County fear property values could fall if new lines drawn in the sand — to stop beachfront owners from building on their own land — are made permanent.
It happens every seven to 10 years: The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control calculates erosion rates on various parts of the shoreline. Then, based on the rate, new jurisdictions lines are drawn — farther seaward, farther landward or they stay the same.
This year, due to legislation passed in 2016, the baseline that’s required to be set on Dec. 31 can never be moved farther seaward, which is something that surprised a number of Beaufort County beachfront homeowners who did not know about the change.
Ruth Idzik, who lives on South Beach in Hilton Head Island’s Sea Pines community, said she’s worried about “getting locked in a situation that can never be reversed after next year.”
The state’s proposed baseline cuts directly through Idzik’s pool. For some of her neighbors, the line cuts right through their homes.
If Idzik’s pool gets destroyed beyond repair, she’ll have to obtain a special permit through DHEC to reconstruct it and it’ll have to be located behind an “existing functional erosion control structure.” If her neighbors’ homes get destroyed beyond repair, they must obtain a special permit, and even then, they can only rebuild the structure up to 5,000 square feet, according to DHEC.
“I guess my main concern is that we won’t be able to do future repair development on our property if we get another storm. Our ability to rebuild would be severely limited,” Idzik said. “That would have a knock on property values, not just on the beachfront, but the second and third rows of homes too.”
Field data to determine the new baseline was collected over the span of a year, and it included post-Hurricane Matthew data.
Idzik, along with many residents in Sea Pines, believe using the post-Matthew data is unfair because it doesn’t take renourishment projects into account.
This summer, as a result of damage done by Hurricane Matthew last October, the South Island Emergency Beach Fill project commenced. About 300,000 cubic yards of sand is being used to fill a stretch of the Sea Pines beach, including in front of Idzik’s home.
After contractors were finished filling sand in front of her house, the high-tide line is much farther out than it used to be, she said.
“We all want the same results, to protect the beach, property owners and the environment,” she said. “But the beach renourishment in Sea Pines has clearly helped, and it’s not being taken into consideration.”
Don Woelke, Harbor Island Homeowners Association manager, is urging DHEC to postpone the deadline a year or two, in order to let residents and the beachfront to recover from recent storms.
“These lines are not benign lines on a map with little effect on households in the coastal area,” he said an Oct. 23 public comment session in Beaufort. “These lines affect the very essence of individual property rights. Families in our state have lost millions of dollars in property value and in some cases the entire use of the property itself, because where it falls within these lines.”
Woelke said he thinks the new lines could affect everyone on Harbor Island, not just beachfront property owners.
“Anything that impacts Harbor Island, even just a section impacts the entire island if that means possibly it could affect property values. That’s a big concern for all of us,” he said.
Still, Kate Schaefer, south coast office director for Coastal Conservation League, says the lines provide an important layer of protection for the state’s vulnerable beachfront areas.
“DHEC has regulated the baseline and setback lines for decades, and coastal property values have grown, not declined,” she said. “These lines protect beachfront property owners from unwise developments on their own properties and their neighbors and make the beachfront a healthier place.”
Time is running out
At the public comment session earlier this week, residents echoed another concern: a lack of awareness.
A public comment session opened on Oct. 6 and will close on Nov. 6. Residents who just found out about the situation have less than two weeks to round up experts and urge officials to delay the process.
“It’s all happening very rapidly,” Idzik said. “We found out by accident. A lot of people don’t even know about it ... luckily we didn’t have any commitments or we wouldn’t have been made aware of all of this.”
Once the lines are established, an individual property owner is granted a year to appeal the decision, according to DHEC. But the appeal, like a special permit request, costs at least $1,000.
David Pardue and about 30 of his neighbors in Sea Pines have been through the process before.
The last time the beachfront control lines were redrawn in 2008-2010, DHEC told the group of homeowners their beach was experiencing a significant erosion rate, but Pardue hadn’t seen any signs of it.
“We’ve been in that area since 1974. We have neighbors who have been there since 1963 and any personal observation in that area of the beach would show that we’ve not only have no erosion, we’ve actually had accretion,” Pardue said at the Monday meeting.
The 30 Sea Pines residents fought the decision in administrative law court for nearly 15 months before DHEC reversed the lines and republished the erosion rates from 3 feet to zero feet.
“We had a very good outcome, but we had to spend close to $100,000 in scientific studies and in legal costs to do it,” he said. “We just felt like that was an unfair burden to put on the property owners.”
Want to tell DHEC what you think about the new lines?
You can submit your comments online at gis.dhec.sc.gov/shoreline or mail then to DHEC-OCRM, Attn: Barbara Neale, 1362 McMillan Avenue, Suite 400, Charleston, SC 29405