Wednesday, March 11, 2015

From the House

Bluffton Today

Last week, I gave you some background as to how our oceanfront management laws and regulations have evolved over the years. There were various “Blue Ribbon” committees appointed with mandates to protect our beaches as well as try and balance the property rights of adjacent landowners with the rights of public access. There have been multiple committees, each updating the management regime with an eye on future needs.

The most recent committee was appointed in October of 2011 and called the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management. It was chaired by Blufftonian, Wes Jones, with this legislator also a member. Our charge was to develop specific statutory and regulatory recommendations from the research and policy options presented by our predecessor committee, the Shoreline Change Advisory Committee.

Our work product was presented to the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) board in January 2013. I have submitted legislation, H.3378, The Public Beach Protection Act, which includes most of the important provisions of our report. The bill has attracted a number of co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, and will come up for debate week after next. There is also a companion bill on the Senate side, S.139, sponsored by Senator Ray Clary.

There are a number of technical features of the bill, but the most important tenet is to declare that the “baseline” established under the S.C. Beachfront Management Act should never move seaward from the position it occupied on 14 June 2011. The baseline is the line, which is currently set every 8 to 10 years according to various dynamic measurements. Building setbacks are relative to the baseline. If the beach appears to move seaward, then there is potential to move the setback lines seaward, and vice versa. When the baseline moves seaward, so do setbacks, and so do buildings. Our bill will allow the baseline to move landward, but not seaward. The science and the common sense agree that this is the prudent course of action. Here’s why:

Much of the coastline along the eastern seaboard is composed of barrier islands whose geography is in constant flux. Some years, a particular stretch of beach will expand, maybe for 10 years or more. That same beach may begin to shrink, and continue to do so for years, perhaps even opening into a small estuary and forming a marshland, only to be reversed eventually. Even discounting the effects of climate change and ocean rise, this is a demonstrable process. If we move the baseline seaward to account for a temporary event, when that event reverses, any buildings that were built during the previous years are in jeopardy. Property owners then want permission to build protective structures, even though we know that these structures increase erosion on neighboring properties.

The legislation we have put forth is likely to become model law for North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, if not the entire coastline. That is, if we can pass it in South Carolina. In years past, we were the leaders in innovative coastal land management. We’ll see in a couple of weeks if we still hold any claims on that leadership.

If you have any doubts as to the fact that barrier islands are constantly moving, go to Hilton Head Museum at Honey Horn and look at maps going back to World War Two. There were gun emplacements hundreds of yards off what is now the beach at Palmetto Dunes. In 1945, that land was high ground. Also, oyster rakes on the mud bars between Fish Haul Creek and Dolphin Head are actually tabby foundations of homes that were once 300 yards from Port Royal Sound.

We’ve worked on this for well over 20 years, it’s time to get it done, and done right.