Despite what they say, developers are being allowed to build hotels - and houses and golf courses - too close to the ocean in South Carolina.

Builders market them as having terrific ocean views and only a short walk to the surf.

But the public sees more of its beach property being covered by buildings. And realistic people recognize that storms and erosion are a real threat to the structures and to taxpayers whose money supports government programs that are tapped to help repair the damage or prevent it from occurring.

The present law stipulates how close to the surf buildings can be constructed. The aim was to push new building projects away from the surf over time.

The problem comes with renourishment, which widens the beach, albeit temporarily.

Presently, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control says that the building line can move eastward when the renourished beach is at its widest.

That means when the beach erodes again, which it is all but certain to do, the structure is closer to the surf than is reasonable.

State Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, has submitted a bill that would prevent the building restriction line from ever being moved toward the ocean. It is a wise bill, and one he is well qualified to introduce. He served as a member of a coastal blue ribbon committee that reviewed the law in detail over a period of months.

Conservationists agree with him, but others do not. Developers contend that the building line should remain movable. People purchased property with that understanding. Fixing the line could diminish the scope of their construction.

And another bill, introduced by Sen. Glenn Reese, D-Spartanburg, would actually ease restrictions by allowing seawalls to be built.

Perhaps if Sen. Reese lived nearer to the coast he would understand that his is a terrible idea. It is widely understood that seawalls only divert water flow and cause erosion elsewhere on the shore.

To put the overall problem in perspective, the State newspaper reported that, since the late 1980s, South Carolina taxpayers have spent more than $200 million to artificially widen beaches.

The shoreline is fickle. It erodes and accretes. It is chewed away by fierce storms. In a battle between people and nature, nature will ultimately win. South Carolina law should acknowledge that.

Further, one of the state's most valuable natural assets is its coastline. People travel from all over the world to Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and other beachside communities.

Mess up the beaches with too-large buildings too close to the surf and the experience will be diminished for visitors and locals alike.

As long as there is wiggle room in the existing law, there is likely to be unwarranted coastal construction.

Sen. Cleary's bill would take away the contradictions and allow for healthy beaches in South Carolina.