Wednesday, October 25, 2017 Blog · News

Setting Lines for South Carolina’s Dynamic Shoreline

by Emily Cedzo

In the last few years, coastal communities have weathered intense storms and difficult periods of recovery. This trend will continue. In order to build resilience, we must be forward-thinking. Now is the time to craft sound regulatory decisions around coastal policy.

South Carolina is on the right track. Last spring, members of the Coastal Conservation League, citizens, and our conservation coalition partners worked with Rep. Peter McCoy (R-Charleston), Rep. Bill Herbkersman (R-Beaufort), Rep. James Smith (D-Richland), Rep. Kirkman Finlay (R-Richland), Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Charleston), and Sen. Marlon Kimpson (D-Charleston) to pass the Shoreline Management Bill that ensures future coastal development will never move closer to the ocean. This bill came in the form of an amendment to a law that passed in 1988 — the South Carolina Beachfront Management Act (Coastal Tidelands and Wetlands Act, as amended, §48-39-250 et seq.).

The 1988 Beachfront Management Act charges the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) with creating a program to implement a forty-year retreat policy (if you are a policy wonk, you can read all about it here under 48-39-280), along with a host of other lofty goals. DHEC utilizes this policy as a guiding tool in their coastal management program. As part of that directive, DHEC must “establish a baseline that parallels the shoreline for each standard erosion zone and each inlet erosion zone.” They do this about every ten years (they must by law) by delineating a baseline and setback line. The process is highly technical and data driven, for the most part. Revisions are based on long-term data that account for historical trends in coastal erosion and accretion. However, they are not perfect – measurements don’t always account for rapid rates of erosion that can occur as a result of storm surges or other unique events, like Hurricane Irma. DHEC last updated the lines in 2009.

DHEC image illustrating baseline and setback line, October 2017.

Which brings me to my point: DHEC just released proposed revisions to the state’s baseline and setback line last week. We need your help to ensure that the lines are where they need to be to protect coastal communities. Please take a moment to look at the lines.

The setback line, the most landward of the two lines, establishes a boundary for big projects like houses, roads and hardened structures to be permitted through DHEC. Between the setback line and baseline, the most seaward line, smaller projects like decks and piers only require notice but do not have to undergo the same permitting as large structures. No development can occur seaward of the baseline without a special permit.

Where these lines are drawn is really important. And the time to weigh in on the proposed lines is now (the deadline is November 6!).

You can comment online or attend public meetings. Share your concerns and observations in the public process. DHEC will take your comments into account before the lines are finalized.

Harbor Island, April 2017.

A baseline that will never move closer to the ocean protects homeowners and taxpayers, the valuable dune system, public beach access and marine wildlife; lessens the vulnerability of homes to volatile winds, waves and storms; and, decreases public subsidies, in the form of taxpayer dollars for disaster relief, for future development.

The only direction to coastal resilience is landward.

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