Special exceptions are a necessary safety valve for government regulation. No set of rules will fit every set of circumstances.
Still, there must be limits .
At its meeting last week, the South Carolina Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management debated special exemptions that allow construction in critical areas behind the first row of dunes along the beachfront.
The committee, which didn't have enough members present to take any formal action, generally agreed that such permits will be needed in the future.
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But that doesn't mean special exceptions should be commonplace. And it doesn't mean that the committee should weaken the state's commitment to the policy of a gradual retreat from the beach. It is the surest way to ensure we have a dry, sandy public beach. It also helps reduce storm damage that the private and public sectors end up paying for.
The term should be "extraordinary," not just special, if we're going to get this right.
Issuing permits for large, expensive homes or any other type of construction close to highly erosional sections of beach is short-sighted on the part of state regulators and property owners. Inevitably, it creates pressure to spend money for hard, erosion-control devices that exacerbate erosion of the public's beach. It also increases pressure to spend money to pump more sand onto the beach, a public expense that grows more costly and more difficult to maintain.
We shouldn't allow people to build in high-risk areas and then come to the public for help. And we shouldn't let them take measures to protect their private property at the risk of public assets and potential damage to others. Sand-trapping devices, such as groins, for example, might slow erosion in one area, but as sure as the tides, they will affect someone else down-current now robbed of sand that would have been heading their way.
We also don't have money to buy up expensive beachfront property. If a property owner is deprived of all use of his property, that's a risk we face. But there ought to be a middle ground, where property owners have use of their property without placing an undue burden on the public or putting at risk what belongs to the public -- the sandy beach below the mean high water mark.
Decades of studies, including a recent three-year endeavor by a broad range of interest groups in the state, come to the same conclusions: The state should seek a gradual retreat from the ever-changing shoreline and work to eliminate hard erosion-control solutions that can make problems worse.
Even with the option to say "yes" under some circumstances, people who issue permits should not be afraid to say "no."
Protecting public resources should be the guiding principle. Tourism and real estate development are hurt in the long run if we lose sight of that.