101917 Beaches: DHEC rejects Hewitt’s call to delay new lines
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State jurisdictional lines are due to move across Springs Avenue, where the National Guard cleared debris after Hurricane Matthew.

Beaches: DHEC rejects Hewitt’s call to delay new lines

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

As the clock ticks down on the comment period for new lines that will expand state jurisdiction along portions of the Waccamaw Neck’s beachfront, state Rep. Lee Hewitt’s phone continues to ring.

“DHEC’s been calling me every day,” he said.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control announced revised jurisdictional lines on Oct. 6. The deadline for public comment is Nov. 6. A public hearing on the lines is scheduled for Wednesday in Myrtle Beach. By law, the new lines must take effect by Dec. 31. It’s all too fast, officials and property owners say.

“My biggest problem is they’re doing this with no notice,” Hewitt said.

He and state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, last week asked the leaders of the House and Senate to delay implementation of the lines until after the General Assembly reconvenes in January. “Speaker Lucas is with me on this,” Hewitt said, referring to Rep. Jay Lucas. Goldfinch was not available for comment this week.

Hewitt said he was told Wednesday by DHEC officials that they won’t delay the process. It would be unfair to people whose property moved out of the state’s jurisdiction, they told him. Those who find themselves within the expanded jurisdiction can appeal, they said.

Hewitt plans to press the legislature and the governor’s office to delay implementation.

The state uses two lines to define its jurisdiction over the beachfront. The “baseline” is determined by the crest of the primary dune. Where there is no dune, the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, uses historical data to estimate its position. A “setback line” landward of the baseline is determined by the erosion rate. The state has adopted a 40-year retreat strategy, so the erosion rate is multiplied by 40.

The state has jurisdiction over the area seaward of the baseline. Construction or reconstruction of houses is allowed with special permits. Swimming pools are allowed in some circumstances.

Although the baseline has moved with the beach in previous reviews, after this time it will no longer move seaward. On the south end of Pawleys Island and portions of Garden City, the jurisdictional lines extend to second row property. The limit on the baseline “is significant,” said Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis. “The average property owner has no clue.”

Although a large number of houses on the island’s narrow south end already fall at least partly within the jurisdictional lines, the new lines include all of them. “You’re subordinating your property interest to the state of South Carolina, as far as I’m concerned,” Otis said. “You don’t know what the rules are going to be tomorrow.”

And while the state has never denied a permit for building or rebuilding a house in the jurisidictional area, Otis pointed out that those permits can be appealed. After the town waited over three years for a state Administrative Law Court judge to rule on an appeal of a groin permit for the island’s south end, Otis said that is a major concern.

Property owners can appeal the new lines once they take effect. That process was also uncertain, but Hewitt said he learned from DHEC this week that property owners will have a year to file an appeal. But that assumes owners are informed.

Hewitt would like the review process extended to a year. Otis agreed that would be sufficient time for property owners to understand the process and get the data if they want to challenge the lines.

Right now, Hewitt said, “people don’t even know enough to ask questions at the public hearings.”

The local hearing will be held from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at the Horry-Georgetown Tech campus at Market Common in Myrtle Beach. The proposed lines can be viewed online. Comments can also be submitted online.

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