Monday, August 23, 2010

Coastal management issues pose dilemma

Bluffton Today

Many thanks to all who called in about last week’s column on the shellfish harvesting reclassification of the headwaters of our May River. Your concerns mirror my own on this extremely important issue. I was more than a little dumbfounded by the fact that this paper, as well as its competitor, did not deem the reclassification newsworthy as of this writing (Friday evening.) Perhaps this is merely a reflection of the fact that August is often vacation time and all the reporters were out of town. Ideally, the weekend editions will see this oversight corrected.

The local job situation was front and center at the recent Lowcountry Regional Jobs Summit, held at the University of South Carolina Hilton Head Gateway Campus. My friend Paula Harper Bethea moderated this excellent event. The first day was pretty much a definition of the problem, while the second involved a batch of potential ways we can build and diversify our economy. Many thanks to Paula for a great effort, and to the Coalition for Jobs for putting this event together.

One of the things driving the extraordinary number of calls to my office has to do with a recently released study commissioned by the state that looked at the future of coastal South Carolina. There are some issues articulated in the study that, as always, have to do with the delicate balance between the needs of coastal management and property rights. There are thorny issues all the way from Fripp Island to South Beach on Hilton Head Island, such as setbacks from the critical line and what are the proper criteria for drawing the critical line. There are also matters relating to inland waters, such as the May and Okatie Rivers that will need to be hashed out.

These are matters of great interest to me, as well as the Coastal Caucus, and will be the subject of hearings and workshops in the fall. For decades, the state has mandated a building retreat from the edge of the ocean. This is in recognition of the fact that barrier islands are part of a dynamic process that moves the beach in response to forces beyond our control. Twenty years ago the issue was often expressed as response to littoral currents and sand migration. Today, there are issues of rising sea levels and possible impacts of climate change. We cannot afford to armor the entire coastline to counter these forces. Neither can we simply ignore those that have legally built in areas that are not sustainable without some sort of renourishment or armoring to protect their homes and investments. How to work through these dilemmas will be one of the profound challenges of our generation. For the present time, please continue to call in, email, or write your thoughts on how these issues need to be approached. I can do a better job of representing all of us if I have a good feel for the spectrum of opinion on these difficult issues.

Finally, I want to congratulate Beaufort County Council Chairman Weston Newton for his election to a leadership post on the South Carolina Association of Counties Board of Directors. Weston is one of the hardest working elected officials I know, and the list of his accomplishments is long and distinguished. It is time he and they are recognized.