A primary goal of state oceanfront policy is to keep new development from creeping closer and closer to the ocean, where it is in harm’s way.
South Carolina has been working toward this specific goal since the landmark Beachfront Management Act of 1988, and for the overall protection of cherished coastal assets since the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972.
To do that, the state and other governments have drawn lines in the sand, so to speak, based on long-term erosion rates along the entire S.C. shoreline.
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Since 1988, the state has attempted to ward off development seaward of what they call the “baseline.”
The lines have moved as they have been updated every seven to 10 years. But it didn’t really work to ward off encroachment of development into vulnerable areas.
That changed in June 2016 when legislation passed unanimously in both the state House and Senate to lock in the baseline as of Dec. 31 of this year and prohibit it from ever moving seaward.
Property owners on Hilton Head Island and elsewhere said they were blindsided by the new line, even though this concept has been a public issue for 30 years, often led by statewide task forces representing all major stakeholders and led by Beaufort County citizens; and even though last year’s legislation led in the House by Rep. Bill Herbkersman of Bluffton was widely reported, commented upon and challenged throughout a two-year legislative process. People want more time to digest it and make comment to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, whose public comment period on the new lines is to close on Nov. 6.
Some say the new standard will hurt property values, but values have risen dramatically since development began in earnest in Beaufort County in the 1950s, despite erosion, and even after beachfront restrictions came into play.
The law allows for flexibility. Buildings outside the “baseline” or a landward “setback” line can be rebuilt if damaged or destroyed. Beyond the baseline, the size would be limited to 5,000 square feet of heated space. Swimming pools could be rebuilt at the same size, unless they are beyond the baseline and not protected by existing functional erosion control devices.
Also, the law allows for appeals to DHEC, and beyond that to a state court.
And the regulations take into account the “takings” concept. In fact, a 1992 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States established that the Beachfront Management Act could not stop an Isle of Palms property owner from building homes on his two oceanfront lots because it constituted a “total takings” of all economically-beneficial use of his property. It was considered a great victory for property rights, and has influenced state management of the coastal zone.
At this point, we must not forget the reason for the setback lines. It was stated succinctly in the 1988 law: “Erosion is a natural process which becomes a significant problem for man only when structures are erected in close proximity to the beach/dune system. It is in both the public and private interests to afford the beach/dune system space to accrete and erode in its natural cycle. This space can be provided only by discouraging new construction in close proximity to the beach/dune system and encouraging those who have erected structures too close to the system to retreat from it … A forty-year policy of retreat from the shoreline is established.”
Subsequent reviews of that law by scientists, citizens and legislators have shown it to be even more important today. That should not be a surprise to anyone.
Want to tell DHEC what you think?
Some of the ground rules:
▪ You can submit comments online at gis.dhec.sc.gov/shoreline or mail them to DHEC-OCRM, Attn: Barbara Neale, 1362 McMillan Ave., Suite 400, Charleston, SC 29405.
▪ You also can call 843-953-0200 to make an appointment to discuss potential impacts to your property or view lines in person at one of DHEC’s Office of Coastal Resource Management locations.
If you are a property owner who disagrees with the proposed beachfront jurisdictional lines:
▪ You can notify DHEC through the public comment process, which runs through Nov. 6.
▪ Final lines will be available on Dec. 8.
▪ It is the DHEC’s position that you have up to one year to request a review of the lines by DHEC’s governing board.
▪ The property owner may appeal that board decision to the S.C. Administrative Law Court.