FOLLY BEACH — As surf eats farther and farther into what’s left of the dunes here, property owners are building walls to protect their homes — with or without the state’s permission.
And the frustrated owners are screaming for help. That’s why a bill is moving through the state Senate that could crumble regulations limiting sea walls and other hardened beach structures coastwide.
Ed Yarborough, a Spartanburg businessman, asked his district’s senator in November for the bill. He made the call from the eroded beach in front of his East Ashley Avenue property.
“He was desperate,” said Sen. Glenn Reese, D-Spartanburg. Yarborough has a family medical emergency and asked Reese to have comment deferred to him.
Reese, who is a friend of Yarborough, filed the bill “for impact” in language “that was what (Yarborough) wanted,” to get it considered in the current session, knowing it would be reworked.
“And it worked,” Reese said.
A bill based on one property owner’s problem is foolhardy, said Anne Peterson Hutto of the Coastal Conservation League, a former state legislator. If it’s only for impact, it is moving rather quickly through the committee process, so far without amendment, she said.
Yarborough had watched as passing hurricanes Irene and then Sandy took out three rows of dunes in front of his house, said Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin. Frustrated by not being able to get a state emergency permit quickly enough, Yarborough built a wooden sea wall on top of a historic, buried rock revetment without the permit, the mayor said.
The state stepped in to stop it, leading to the bill. Yarborough is among a handful of beach property owners in the same fix, Goodwin said. At least one other property owner also started a sea wall that was stopped by the state, he said.
The bill calls for five-day, expedited permitting of beach property protection measures if sea waters rise to within 10 feet of the property, “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” A subcommittee passed the bill. The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources committee will consider it Thursday.
Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, who sits on the committee, said the bill is being reworked to make it specific to Folly Beach, which already has some exemptions from state sea wall regulations because its erosion is exacerbated by the Charleston jetties.
“I don’t want to come up with legislation that would undermine the Beachfront Management Act,” Campbell said. “This guy was trying to protect his home. I think we can do both. We’re really dancing on a fence and seeing which side we won’t fall on.”
But even with reworking, the bill could apply to other beaches where emergency conditions exist, he said.
“Though Folly is exempt from the Beachfront Management Act, there is still a clear ban on hard structures. Folly’s exemption doesn’t make it a free-for-all,” Hutto said.
Goodwin said the bill wouldn’t be his personal preference, but the city has little choice but to support it.
Because of the Army Corps of Engineers-built jetties, the federal government is required to pay the biggest share to periodically renourish the beach, a $15 million project.
But ongoing federal budget problems and posturing are delaying that. The federal delay has caused problems up and down the beach, including the severe erosion in 2011 that closed popular Folly Beach County Park. Giving up on any timely federal assistance, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Committee now plans its own $3 million groin project to rebuild some beach and protect renourishment sand along what is now largely a duneless, overwashed beach. Officials now hope to reopen the park by mid-summer.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744