Stand strong for S.C. coast

Cat. Sam's Spit. (File/Staff)

A diverse committee of knowledgeable people met for seven years before recommending how the state should handle construction along its valuable and ever-changing coast.

Developers wanted more leeway to build close to the ocean. Environmentalists wanted to protect the ecosystem and the public whose beaches are in question.

The result was a bill that both will be able to live with — if Kiawah Partners doesn’t convince legislators to change it.

At risk is the entire coastline, but especially a spit of land at the west end of Kiawah Island where Kiawah Partners applied to build 50 houses.

But to do so, the new developer needs some rules to change.

In order to build an access road, the company needs to build a seawall and revetment. The S.C. Supreme Court has ruled against it.

Further, the Kiawah Island property owners association has title to 4.5 acres where such a road would go. So Kiawah Partners is trying to obtain ownership in court.

Now the company wants the General Assembly to delay implementing a beach setback rule hoping the spit will accrete, to the benefit of the project.

But the setback rule was written to stop just such tactics. Developers who want to extract the most value possible out of their projects frequently ask for permission to build closer to the ocean than the rule allows — and unfortunately they get it.

The whole purpose of the bill is to dictate that the setback line will never move closer to the ocean, even if the beach accretes. It might, however, retreat if the beach erodes.

Legislators, especially those representing coastal areas, should give enthusiastic support for the bill. But advocates of the bill say that Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, is an impediment to its passage. Sen. Campbell insists he is still deciding how to vote. He wants to ensure the setback line is based on current data, and he thinks those data will take some time to acquire. However, beaches change constantly. A lot of damage could be done by indiscriminate building if the line isn’t set as soon as possible.

Other than the company that builds the house and gets paid, no one wins from breaching the rules. The homeowner often ends up with the ocean lapping at his front stoop. The beachgoers often see their space diminished. Wildlife like loggerhead turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs have less room to do it.

And taxpayers in many cases ultimately have to rescue the property owners.

All this can happen on the widest stretch of coast. A vulnerable portion such as Captain Sam’s Spit is even more at risk. So there’s even more reason for the Legislature to pass the rule to be effective immediately and to abide by it.

The only people who would gain from the Legislature folding to pressure from Kiawah Partners would be the Charlotte, N.C., company itself.

Legislators who are tempted to kowtow to Kiawah Partners should think about who it is they represent. It’s their constituents — people who appreciate the state’s beautiful public beaches and their wildlife, and who want their grandchildren to be able to do the same.