South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Stinking Up the Beach, 'till It Lasts
Posted: October 10, 2018

A vision of the future for South Carolina's beaches is playing out right now on Folly Beach. Because of the disruption in sand migration caused by the Charleston jetties, Folly is among the most vulnerable SC beaches to the effects of climate change. Only a few weeks ago, the northeastern end of Folly was practically devoid of dry sand beach, as the ocean crashed against the armored undersides of homes, even at low tide.

This August, a major renourishment project has resulted in as much as ten vertical feet of sand being pumped on to the beach. For the very moment, this part of the beach looks relatively safe, though renourishment sand has already begun to wash away.

Remarkably, the renourishment has triggered a scramble by the most short-sighted of developers to establish residential lots on the renourishment sand. The second picture to the right shows flags marking the location of a proposed septic tank system, on a lot that was underwater only days before the flags were placed.

The owner of this lot has applied for a septic permit so as to facilitate development that would occur entirely on renourishment sand. Dozens of "superbeachfront" lots were plotted on Folly decades ago. These lots are in front of what is recognizable as Folly's first row of beach houses, and the lots are typically underwater.

Thankfully, the City of Folly Beach is considering amendments to its ordinances to curb irresponsible "superbeachfront" development and to protect natural dunes. We have been tracking this process and have offered input as to the legal theories that empower the City's action. Furthermore, we are following the attempts by superbeachfront owners to pursue septic and construction permits, and we intend to take action if such permits are granted.

We believe the issuance of such permits would be contrary to the fundamental public trust doctrine, which commits beaches and waters for public use. The fate of Folly's public beach will undoubtedly be coming to a head in the near future, and the rest of our state's beach communities should take notice.

Sandy Super Beachfront Lot

Septic Tank Flaggin

The same area of Folly Beach before the August 2018 renourishment