Thursday, May 10, 2018 Blog

A Deep Dive on Shoreline Reform

by Emily Cedzo

The last time I emailed you, I shared the good news that the most important policy for protecting our beachfront was returned to House Bill 4683—the non-seaward baseline. And last week, the bill was signed into law by Governor Henry McMaster.

This important policy win was only made possible by your participation and engagement. So first, I want to say thank you for hanging in there and for making a difference in the laws our Legislature passed this session.

Here is a broad overview of what the bill does, and what this state law now means for the Conservation League’s work and our fragile coastline. The law:

  • Reforms notification processes, data transparency and clarifies language about coastal homeowner appeals.
  • Maintains a baseline that can never move more seaward. This baseline will be set at the line (2012 or 2017) that is most seaward for a homeowner.
  • Excludes storm impacts within 18 months of updating the lines every 7-10 years.
  • Allows homeowners to keep either their 2012 or 2017 baseline until the next revision in 2024 to ameliorate concerns about the 2017 lines being unfavorable for the vast majority of property owners due to surveying done in close proximity to Hurricane Matthew.
  • Strikes the state’s policy of retreat and inserts a policy of “beach preservation.”

H. 4683 is a big bill, and it’s certainly a compromise. We began session by opposing the legislation because it sought to remove the non-seaward baseline–a core coastal policy put into law based on expert recommendations. Thanks to your public pressure, we took a seat at the decision-making table and participated in a collaborative stakeholder group. This group included legislators, lobbyists, real estate interests, scientists, lawyers, and state agency staff, all working to negotiate a fair and just balance.

While the bill is not perfect, it rightly addresses concerns of property owners and incorporates sound science to outline how lines will be measured and drawn. And most importantly, we were able to uphold the non-seaward baseline. This is arguably one of the most near-term, concrete policies we have to protect our dynamic coastline.

It’s important to remember how we got here: The Coastal Conservation League advocated for the adoption of the 2012 baseline as a non-seaward line years ago, but private developers hired lobbyists to derail the effort. They aimed to kick the can down the road and gamble on Mother Nature. The result? The adoption of a future December 2017 baseline after our coast was battered by Hurricane Matthew.

Under a year-and-a-half, tight deadline the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) surveyed the state’s beaches and released new beachfront lines last fall. (Typically, it takes DHEC about three years to survey our shoreline and release their updates.) This led to frustration and concerns from homeowners. DHEC carried out a legislative mandate that was the result of a compromise due to private interest attempts to develop in inappropriate places.

What’s next?

What does H. 4683 mean for the future of our beaches and the Conservation League’s work? Removing our state’s policy of retreat is not ideal. It leaves too many questions at a time when storm impacts are increasing, and our beaches are eroding. Right now, repetitive and costly renourishment and experimental seawalls are being utilized as solutions to this worsening problem. Beach preservation begs the questions: Whose responsibility is it to preserve our beaches and for whom? How do we preserve them? Where we do draw the line?

These major questions cannot get fleshed out in one legislative session. As we move forward, we all must consider the answers and how to best manage our beaches as a public resource. All South Carolinians are responsible for the long-term health of our beaches and should be involved in decisions that will protect them—or damage them—for future generations.

For a few weeks, please join me in taking a much-needed break from legislative issues involving one of our most complex resources. If you want to talk more, reach me at or (843) 725.1290. Thank you for your passion and engagement in protecting our coast.

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