112317 Beaches: Legislators prepare to deal with shifting jurisdiction lines
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Where no dunes exist, the state uses historical data to estimate their position.

Beaches: Legislators prepare to deal with shifting jurisdiction lines

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

State Sen. Stephen Goldfinch wants to extend the five-month delay adopted this month in extending the state jurisdiction over the beachfront by as long as possible. He plans to introduce a bill in the coming legislative session to revise the process.

“The deal that was struck the last time wasn’t a good deal,” he said. “We had to do it. Everybody held their nose and swallowed the pill.”

State law requires the Department of Health and Environmental Control to review its jurisdictional lines every seven to 10 years. The last review was in 2008 through 2010. The law also includes a policy of “retreat from the beach” over 40 years. It was amended in 2016 so that the current revision is the last time the jurisdictional lines can move seaward.

Goldfinch said he agrees with parts of the law. “Some of these ancestral properties that are built on top of the dunes, those houses are closer and closer to being taken one day by the ocean,” he said. The state shouldn’t allow future construction in the same areas.

There are two lines set by the state: the baseline is the crest of the most seaward dune, or its estimated location if there is no dune. A setback line to the west is based on the estimated erosion over the next 40 years, but in no case is it less than 20 feet. Between those lines, the state can limit the size and location of new construction or rebuilding. It isn’t a “no-build” zone.

“There’s some common sense stuff that even I can wrap my head around,” Goldfinch said.

DHEC announced the new lines on Oct. 6 and set Nov. 6 as the deadline for public comment. Under state law, the lines would take effect by Dec. 31.

After hearing from the governor and legislators, the agency extended the comment period until April 6. It will start adopting the lines in May. For Georgetown County beaches, the current schedule calls for adopting the lines at Garden City on July 27 and adopting lines for DeBordieu, Pawleys Island, Litchfield and Huntington Beach on Sept. 14. The final lines will be adopted by Dec. 31, 2018.

State Rep. Lee Hewitt took the lead in getting the implementation delayed. He wasn’t aware of Goldfinch’s plan for legislation this week, but said “I’m glad he’s on board with some of the thoughts I’ve been having.”

Hewitt has been working with state Sen. Chip Campsen of Charleston. Both attended a meeting this month of the S.C. Beach Advocates, made up of representatives of beachfront communities, to discuss the issue.

In parts of Garden City and the south end of Pawleys Island, the proposed lines extend to some second-row properties. On the southern end of Litchfield Beach, the lines are behind the front-row houses.

“There had never been such a dramatic shift,” Hewitt said. “We just need to sit down and say, ‘where are we?’ ”

Filing legislation will start the discussion, which Hewitt expects will come up in the Environmental Affairs subcommittee of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs committee, on which he serves.

The first thing he wants to look at is how the data was collected that determined the shift in the lines. Data reviewed by the Beach Advocates estimates that the lines moved seaward on about 600 lots and moved landward on nearly 20,000 lots.

DHEC said the data was collected before and after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. It didn’t include the effects of Hurricane Irma this year.

Goldfinch would like to empanel a new blue ribbon committee to review the state beachfront laws. That was done before the previous revision, but members, including former Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis, said the legislature didn’t fully adopt their recommendations.

“This was the supposed compromise,” Goldfinch said of the current law. He said DHEC and its Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management don’t have the capacity to handle the appeals of the proposed jurisdictional lines.

Construction in the jurisdictional area requires a special permit, as do docks and walkways. “They tell me they’ve never denied one,” Goldfinch said, but those permits can be appealed.

He pointed to the three-and-a-half years it took for a state judge to rule on an appeal of a permit for a new groin on Pawleys Island. “It could be a long time,” Goldfinch said.

It may not be necessary to create a new blue ribbon committee if legislators can agree on a fix for the process, Hewitt said. “I have not heard from anybody who thought it was a negative,” he said of the delay in implementation. “I think everybody realizes we’ve got a problem.”

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