Limiting the use of groins and other erosion control devices is good for the coast

In the tug of war between property owners trying to stop or prevent erosion of their property and community leaders trying to protect the state’s entire coastline, the winner should be obvious.

On the issue of groins and other hard erosion control devices, South Carolina’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management is taking the long view — as it should.

The committee, established by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and representing a range of experts in public policy, government and science, is charged with recommending policy regarding the beachfront and estuarine shorelines.

Recently, it recommended that groins — small wooden jetties used to trap sand — be sharply limited. The committee recognized that groins and similar devices spare part of the shoreline, but cause damage elsewhere. For every part of the shore that accretes, there is another part starved of sand.

That’s bad for the environment and for those who use the beach, including the tourists who are a mainstay of the coastal economy.

For this reason the Blue Ribbon Committee said that future permits for groins should be limited substantially, and that walls built perpendicular to the coastline in an effort to trap sand, should be banned.

The committee, however, made an unfortunate exception with its recommendation to allow those erosion control systems to be used at the ends of islands where barriers help keep navigable channels open. It is an inconvenience when boaters have to change their courses because inlets become too shallow, but groins are a questionable solution. If they slow that sand accretion, they cause a problem elsewhere. And often the resort communities that can afford to install them enjoy their benefits, while public beaches sustain the degradation.

The committee also has recommended an end to the practice of allowing developers to encroach on the beach beyond prescribed limits — something they have received permission for when the beach grows wider.

Building closer than recommended to the water might seem a reasonable risk this year, but a foolish mistake next year when the ocean marches back in.

Then property owners pressure regulators to allow them to put up riprap or wooden walls to try to avert the inevitable. And those measures then steal sand from other properties.

The goal of the state should be to protect shorelines, which comprise a major public resource. It is key that houses and other structures are built at an appropriate distance from the shore which is forever changing.

The state has prohibited groins before through the Beachfront Management Act. But the Legislature subsequently softened regulations in some cases.

Too many cases. The Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations will go to DHEC and eventually to the Legislature, which are both sure to encounter lobbyists for developers who don’t like restrictions. They should resist bending to such pressures.

Some ill-advised construction will be at greater risk of damage without groins.

But in the long run, development will be safer and saner. And healthy shorelines are better for everyone — including builders.