State regulators say they plan to take action against three couples and a contractor who put "revetment material" on Daufuskie Island's eroding beach without authorization.
The property owners argue they had no choice but to pile sandbags to ward off erosion that is rapidly claiming their land because officials with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control "thumbed their noses" at the problem.
A DHEC inspection in December 2009 found more than 100 exposed and buried sandbags and two concrete walls installed on the property next to Brian McCarthy's home at 33 Driftwood Cottage Lane. Follow-up inspections in January 2010 and June of this year found new rip-rap had been placed next to the home and another at 29 Driftwood Cottage Lane owned by John and Amy Carlino.
A violation notice issued by DHEC also names Frank and Kristine Ruffino, who have a 50 percent interest in the home at 29 Driftwood Cottage Lane, and Hutton Brothers Contraction Co., which did the work.
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State law prohibits placing erosion-control devices seward of established setback lines adopted in November 2009, except to protect a public highway.
"Like revetments and seawalls, the use of sandbags over a large area over a prolonged period of time will accelerate erosion and result in the total loss of the dry-sand beach," Dan Burger, communications director for DHEC's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, wrote in an email.
The parties and DHEC officials will discuss the alleged violations at a conference at 11 a.m. Sept. 22.
DHEC probably will require the homeowners to remove the revetment material and restore the beach front, Burger wrote. State law also allows the agency to issue a civil fine of $100 to $1,000 per day of violation.
McCarthy's home was slated to be in the second row of homes from the beach, but water has already overtaken the undeveloped lots in front of it and washed over the road, he said.
He argues the sandbags have been used elsewhere along the state's coast to curtail beach erosion and claims DHEC is being selective in its enforcement.
McCarthy said he thinks dredging the Savannah River to accommodate container ships has contributed to the erosion by building up the river's banks and pushing water back toward Daufuskie. Burger said DHEC has no data to support that assertion.
He added that temporary use of sandbags may only be authorized in an emergency, not to counteract chronic erosion.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.