Folly beachfront owners fighting back in effort to save homes from erosion
FOLLY BEACH — Stacey Weiss had to build a sea wall to protect her home — underneath it.
1878 Congress appropriates $200,000 to start jetty construction. Cost estimated at $1 million to $3 million. Project involved sinking barges loaded with rocks.1895 Project completed.1935 Army Corps of Engineers report indicates worsening erosion on Morris Island and Folly beaches.1979 Folly Beach homeowners sue the Army Corps of Engineers over the jetties, claiming erosion damage to the beach.1987Federal government agrees to pay 73.8 percent of the cost of renourishing Folly Beach for 50 years.Cool fact The jetties were the Army Corps of Engineers’ second major project in Charleston following the Civil War. The first was removing various shipwrecks from the shipping channels, including the USS Housatonic, the first ship to be sunk by a submarine — the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley. Also cleaned up was the “great stone fleet,” a series of barges loaded with rocks that were sunk by the Union trying to block the channels.Sources: Army Corps of Engineers, Post and Courier archives
State regulators have stopped her from constructing another one to protect her driveway.
“They’re saying my driveway is in their (active beach) jurisdiction. It’s ridiculous,” Weiss said.
That’s how bad the erosion is getting at each end of Folly Beach.
Residents whose homes were far enough back from the beach that they weren’t regulated by the state now can’t put up erosion-damage protection needed because the eroding beach is at their foundations. The state won’t allow it.
And they are in revolt.
The federal government is required to fund renourishment at Folly Beach because of the Charleston jetties, which were constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers and are a culprit in the erosion. But that renourishment hasn’t been done since 2005.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control is now enforcing its rules landward of the former baseline that determined the active beach.
Weiss’ wall is under her home because that was as close to the beach as she could build it under city rules. She has hired an attorney to fight DHEC over the driveway wall and what she calls “a frivolous (jurisdiction) line drawn in the sand.”
The department “absolutely has jurisdiction over the active beach,” said Mark Plowden, communications director. The department’s job “is to protect the beach for all the citizens of this state.”
Weiss is one of at least four homeowners DHEC has caught breaking the rules by building sea walls without permits. Eight others have been told to remove dune walkovers that no longer have dunes underneath them. They’re not the only ones upset.
When DHEC held an informational meeting in April, residents packed the City Hall meeting room so full the overflow crowded outside the door in the corridor.
All of this because political budget posturing has prevented the federal government from funding the periodic beach renourishment it’s obligated to. The settlement of the 1987 lawsuit by Folly property owners calls for the renourishment to be done as needed, about every eight years.
Since the 2005 renourishment, hurricanes Irene and Sandy caused severe erosion at both ends of the island and ensuing storms exacerbated it. The quickest budget fix won’t get the work done until 2015.
Meanwhile, the project cost has grown from an estimated $15 million to between $20 million and $25 million.
At least part of the Washington delegation is trying to wrestle a share of uncommitted federal Superstorm Sandy relief funding from Northeast states to renourish at least the worst stretches of Folly.
City officials are “going back and forth” to Columbia, said Mayor Tim Goodwin, trying to find some money somewhere. Down at the far end of the island, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission has all but lost the Folly Beach park and can’t wait any longer. It’s doing its own $3 million renourishment and groin project.
“You can actually see every day where the erosion has dug out,” Goodwin said. “You can stand there, watch the sand break off in sheets and wash away. And that’s scary. That’s why the people are pushing back. They’re saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got to protect my property.’ And it’s not just homeowner property. It’s public beach and public access.”
The state built its own sea wall along the Washout down from Weiss’ home to shore up East Ashley Avenue, Weiss said. If regulators stop homeowners from protecting their properties, she said, the tides will erode out to the road behind her home and the state will have to build a wall there.
“Why can’t they let these multimillionaires do what the state would do sooner or later?” she asked. “This island is not going to survive if they do not do the renourishment this year.”
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