As sea levels rise and South Carolina’s beachfront development continues, it’s important to make sure existing laws to protect our state’s coast still work.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control board will consider changes to those policies on Thursday as a Blue Ribbon Committee delivers recommendations in a report that it has worked on for two years.
The board’s job isn’t easy. Some of the 16 recommendations are controversial. Diverse committee members struggled to agree on how best to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of the state’s coastal resources and the communities that depend on them.
Keeping a few principles in mind might help:
■ Regulations should be based on scientific data, which indicate they will help preserve the shoreline.
■ Any change should preserve or advance the public’s use of and access to beaches.
■ Policies to protect beaches should also protect taxpayers, not saddle them with paying for homeowners’ risky choices to build on the coast.
■ It’s better to question the report — even opt for further study on particular items — than to make changes that might inadvertently do harm.
For example, the committee does not recommend that the law be amended to require new construction to be 30 feet farther from the ocean than is now required. A majority of members agreed on the change, but not the two-thirds needed.
Increasing the setback would be a good move. A previous blue ribbon committee recommended the increased setback. DHEC’s board would do well to make it happen.
A red flag in the new Blue Ribbon Committee report is that it recommends shifting the focus from “retreat” (moving development farther from the ocean and beach erosion) to “preservation” (including promoting renourishment and some groins to try to change nature’s course — both ultimately futile measures).
Instead, the state should be looking for ways that people can build — or not build — safely and reasonably in light of nature’s tendencies.
Groins are built perpendicular to the shore to capture sand and build up areas that are eroding. They might be a short-term answer to a problem, but data do not support them being used long-term. Data also show that groins can cause damage to neighboring beaches.
DHEC’s board should question the committee’s proposal to allow groins to be built on beaches near channels where erosion tends to be worst.
The report also makes some very sound suggestions about clarifying language that is murky and establishing sensible procedures for assessing, approving and monitoring beachfront issues.
When South Carolina enacted the Beachfront Management Act in 1988, it was on the vanguard of such legislation in the country.
It has been amended and needs further amendment — but only in order to protect the state’s coastal resources for both the public and wildlife.