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Environment: Beach panel proposes an end to state’s policy of retreat

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A panel that studied the state’s beachfront regulations recommends in a report published last week that preservation take the place of retreat from the changing shoreline.

Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis, one of 16 panel members, says the policy adopted in 1988 of moving structures away from the beach “was a bar to constructive discussion of beachfront management issues.”

“One thing that came out of the local meetings was, What the heck is retreat and why do we think it’s a good idea?” he said.

Nancy Cave, north coast director of the Coastal Conservation League, said the policy recommendation is “unfortunate.”

“Preservation isn’t going to prepare our coast for sea level rise. It’s not going to prepare our coast for more severe storms,” she said.

The report calls the retreat policy “vague and often impracticable or unattainable.”

It says that preservation should include moving or removing threatened structures as well as beach nourishment, conservation of undeveloped shoreline and dune stabilization.

“It was a very good balance,” state Sen. Ray Cleary of Murrells Inlet, another panel member, said.

The recommendations recognize the property rights of people along the developed areas of the coast, but would prevent further development where beaches build up, either naturally or as a result of engineering.

It also addresses “problem areas where every time there’s a nor’easter they’re worried about going into the sea,” he said.

Those areas could renourish the beach, but at their own expense.

The change from retreat to preservation “is just to be consistent with the obvious,” Cleary said. “There are not a lot of places to retreat to.”

The panel recommends no new groins be built, except for terminal groins that stabilize inlets. Permits issued by the state for groins at Pawleys Island and DeBordieu are still valid, although both face legal challenges from the Coastal Conservation League and other environmental groups.

Otis fought that recommendation because he thinks other areas will need groins as sand for beach nourishment becomes scarce.

It also says the state should designate a source of revenue for a state beach nourishment fund. It calls for the creation of a set of guidelines for nourishment projects.

“We’re making sure that the funds can only be used in a sensible way,” Cleary said.

But if the state can find funds for nourishment, it can find funds to buy threatened property, Cave said.

With beach nourishment, “we aren’t doing anything except throwing money in the ocean,” she said.

The full report is available online.

Comments can be sent to Carolyn Boltin-Kelly at 1362 McMillan Ave., Suite 400, Charleston, SC 29405, or by e-mail, no later than 4 p.m. on March 12.

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